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Stigmatizing language in medical records affects patient care, study shows


Physicians who use stigmatizing language in their patients’ medical records could be affecting the care they receive for years to come, according to a new Johns Hopkins study.

Titled “Do Words Matter? Stigmatizing Language and the Transmission of Bias in the Medical Record,” and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the study aimed to determine whether the language and descriptions used in patient records could perpetuate bias among doctors.

The study analyzed the notes and descriptions physicians had written during visits to a hypothetical patient at a large urban medical center. Researchers then assessed how the language used in the notes influenced the patient’s care and pain management.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine used an experimental vignette study design, in which 413 residents and medical students were randomized to read one of two chart notes presenting medically identical information about a hypothetical 28-year-old patient with sickle cell disease (SCD) and chronic pain in his left hip.