Remain objective

31 October 2019
Autumn 2019

We are all guilty of unconscious bias, but recognising our hidden prejudice is the first step to better patient relationships, writes Kathy Oxtoby.

Do you assume that older patients will want a cheap, bland frame? Or that presbyopic men would not be interested in multifocal contact lenses but women would? Or maybe you didn’t give full and frank information to a patient you disliked? It’s possible you have never examined these assumptions before, which are all examples of unconscious bias.

“Unconscious bias is an inevitable part of being human,” says Dr Susan Blakeney FCOptom, Clinical Adviser for the College. “Throughout our lives we will have experiences that will influence what and who we like and don’t like, and what and who we believe and don’t believe,” she says. However, Susan believes it is important that our life experiences “do not negatively affect our decision-making”. And she says it is important for healthcare professionals to be “as objective as possible and to not allow your own cognitive biases to influence your behaviour towards your patients”. But how do we go about changing our behaviour if it is so widespread and ingrained?

What is unconscious bias?

Bias is a disposition to think, feel or act in a certain way, stemming “from long-standing personality attributes, from particular sets of knowledge or past experience, or from a current predicament” (Kapur, 2015). Unconscious bias – also known as implicit bias – happens when “such tendencies are outside our awareness and conscious control” (Kapur, 2015). We are all guilty of reaching for stereotypes or making unfair assumptions. 

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