New CA Law Requires All Doctors To Take Implicit Bias Training

by Valerie Williams

New law aims to make doctors more aware of the health concerns of black women in a bid to improve their maternal mortality rate

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black women are at least three times more likely than white women to die a pregnancy-related death. That’s why the state of California is taking action to help ensure that the health concerns of black mothers are taken seriously by requiring the state’s doctors to take implicit bias training.

Pregnancy-related deaths of black mothers are at a crisis point, and it all begins with doctors providing the proper prenatal care. That means addressing any implicit bias a physician may have, as studies show that medical professionals tend to take the health concerns of black women less seriously, resulting in a higher maternal mortality rate. A bill was signed into law this week by Governor Gavin Newsom in an attempt to address the issue of black mothers dying at higher rates than their white peers.

“Black women do deserve better,” says California state Sen. and the law’s author Holly J. Mitchell. “When we recognize that the black maternal mortality rate is 4 times higher of other racial groups that is why the bill is before you today.”

The bill is sponsored by several groups including NARAL and Black Women for Wellness. Along with teaching doctors about bias, the bill will require California’s state health department to track and publish additional data around pregnancy-related deaths to help understand what’s happening — and fix the problem.

It’s worth noting that while the maternal mortality rate of black mothers is especially alarming (25 percent of the approximately 700 women who die in childbirth are black women even though they only make up 5 percent of the women giving birth), the U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate among all developed countries. Most of these deaths are fully preventable with the right care — including providers taking the concerns of pregnant women and new mothers seriously.

“We want to encourage Black women to ask their provider, ‘Have you been through implicit bias training because I want to increase the likelihood of my survival of delivering this baby,'” says Mitchell.

In a press release, Mitchell’s office notes the results of a 2016 study by University of Virginia researchers which made a highly disturbing discovery — white medical students tended to believe myths about black patients being able to tolerate more pain due to less sensitive nerve endings. They also believed black patients have thicker skin. Dr. Vicky Alexander, a retired OBGYN, and Founder and Board President of Healthy Black Families, Inc., is championing the bill and the changes it could bring about.

“Infant mortality is 2 times higher, and maternal mortality is 4 times higher in the Black community, we can no longer sit back but I said that 30 years ago,” said Dr. Alexander, “It is really a time for courageous change, and I really do believe SB464 will do that for us”.