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Can Discrimination Be a Form of Medical Malpractice?

On Behalf of Cranwell & Moore P.L.C., Attorneys at Law April 27, 2018

When doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, they pledge to provide care that helps and never harms. This is a commitment to serve all patients equally to the best of their ability. Doctors are like any other people, though, and they often carry prejudices that they may consciously or subconsciously act on. When it comes to providing health care, this can seriously affect the treatment a patient receives.

Women, minorities and other marginalized groups should be aware of the treatment they receive and whether it is up to par. Every patient, in fact, should be on the lookout for these common forms of medical malpractice that may be fueled by prejudice or discrimination.

Inferior treatment

According to a study by the Center for Justice and Democracy, minorities are more likely to be victims of preventable medical errors than other patients. There are many factors that influence this—less access to medical care, lack of insurance and language barriers are just a few. Nonetheless, there is no excuse for a preventable medical error, especially if it is the result of a physician’s own prejudice.


Minorities are not the only population who may receive inferior care. Overweight and elderly patients are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis, and in both cases, this can be deadly. A doctor may dismiss these patients’ symptoms as indicative of their weight or age, when in fact, there is another ailment that needs treatment. Failure to diagnose or incorrectly diagnosing an illness is a serious error.

Denial of care

The aforementioned study also mentions minorities’ lack of access to primary care medical treatment. As a result, many underprivileged patients go to the emergency room to seek care. Because of the hectic nature of this environment, professionals may flatly deny patients care even when the sufferers have a serious condition that needs treatment. People should take seriously any denial of care and refusal to treat.