Color blindness in dermatological treatments can be deadly

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Color blindness in dermatological treatments can be deadly

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2021 | Medical Malpractice |

While messages of racial harmony urge people to ignore skin color in favor of ethnic unity, that message can actually impede progress in understanding how illnesses of the skin manifest in different races. Dermatologists in Texas and other states are coming to a greater understanding of how a single skin condition can presents itself differently in various races. Not understanding this can lead to deadly outcomes.

Bias in medicine

Quality medical care continues to plague today’s healthcare system for people of color (POC). Though efforts are underway to change this, it remains a work in progress. Ineffectively detecting dermatological issues in POC is more than racial prejudice: it is a perfect storm of unintentional ignorance, lack of training and implicit bias. Thus, if the condition is not properly diagnosed, treating it could be ineffective, and in cases of misdiagnosed cancer, deadly.

Even the manuals used to train budding dermatologists use white patients to demonstrate how skin conditions manifest. While nothing on the surface appears abnormal about this, one size does not fit all with respect to integumentary signs and symptoms. Misdiagnosis can occur more readily when doctors are not familiar with skin conditions and how they manifest differently with respect to race. For example, in white patients with melanoma, it commonly presents on the skin most exposed to the sun. However, in POC, they experience signs under the feet, in the mouth and in the palm of their hands.

Correcting the past

Despite change being slow, updated research and training are responding to the need for effective, ethnically appropriate treatment. To this end, a 21-year-old medical student published a trailblazing manual that describes different skin conditions in POC and what they look like. With more than 200,000 downloads and counting, his groundbreaking work is a powerful reference that continues to help his colleagues make relevant diagnoses and prescribe proper treatment.