Mind-set behind certain Web sites can lead to physician hiring discrimination

LETTER — Posted May 15, 2006

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Regarding "Web sites let patients find like-minded physicians" (Article, March 27): I was surprised to see American Medical News displaying on its first page an uncritical story and information on groups that help patients to determine and select physicians on the basis of their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Compounding the issue, the AMNews Web site provides a directory of informative links for those physicians who want to participate in such listings.

There always will be a variety of factors that contribute to a healthy physician-patient relationship, including some of the characteristics these sites compile. The goal of organized medicine, however, should be training doctors to relate to patients of varied ages, genders, and racial and ethnic backgrounds, not facilitating discrimination.

Despite the fact that patients "with same-race doctors were more satisfied with the visit," as the article observes, it is a violation of the law and AMA policy to restrict hiring at a medical practice to a specific race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. AMA policy adopted in 1976, and reaffirmed in 1989 and 2000, "endorses the principle of equal opportunity of employment and practice in the medical field."

Carried to its logical conclusion, the mind-set behind these sites poses the potential to unlawfully affect hiring decisions for medical practices, clinics, hospitals and other physician employers, to enhance their patients' "satisfaction." That is the unfortunate but logical extension of the approach this story seems to endorse.

Although not always perfect, physicians have a long and noble history of striving to treat patients from all backgrounds with care, compassion and understanding.

In an often-quoted "Daily Prayer Of a Physician," the doctor asks, "In the sufferer let me see only the human being." We should endeavor to improve ourselves in this area, not encourage the systematic racial, gender, ethnic, and religious classification of our patients or colleagues.

This information and links to the sites should be removed from American Medical News Web site. They encourage bias based on racial, gender, religious, ethnic and sexual orientation, something the AMA should not facilitate but rather oppose.

John R. Cohn, MD, Philadelphia

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/05/15/edlt0515.htm.

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