Racial biases in medical education may be the reason why black patients so frequently have their conditions missed or misdiagnosed, and this, in turn, may partially explain why black people have the lowest life expectancy of any major group in the country. New Mexico residents who work in the medical field, especially dermatology, should take note.

Dermatologists are usually taught how to pinpoint skin conditions on white skin, but not on pigmented skin. For example, it is common knowledge that an inflammation caused by increased blood flow will appear red or pink on white skin. It is not as well-known that the same condition will be brown or violet on pigmented skin.

Identifying rashes due to immunological disorders like lupus or adverse reactions to antibiotics is also a hit-and-miss affair when black patients are involved. Some misdiagnoses are serious; for example, a black patient with body-wide blisters caused by a reaction to a sulfonamide antibiotic was sent to a burn unit. In some cases, such as those that involve the aggressive skin cancer melanoma, patients may die.

Black patients may also become confused if clinicians describe the condition they have using images of a white patient. Ultimately, this makes for a less trusting doctor-patient relationship and an inferior level of care. More comprehensive medical education and treatment methods, then, are recommended.

Under medical malpractice law, misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses, if they are clearly the result of negligence and are the direct or indirect cause of someone’s injuries, can form the basis of a malpractice claim. Victims of a diagnostic error may have had to undergo unnecessary treatments, and they may have suffered emotionally as well after discovering that those treatments were ineffective. A successful claim could cover these and other losses. For assistance, victims may want to retain a lawyer.