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‘Implicit bias’ training deadline looms for 420,000 Michigan health workers

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Health professionals from doctors and dentists to podiatrists and midwives must take training in implicit bias to receive their licenses, under a new Michigan requirement set to take effect June 1. (Shutterstock)

Beginning June 1, hundreds of thousands of Michigan health care providers must take “implicit bias” training  to practice medicine, provide massages or fix a broken tooth.

The new rule, ordered in 2020 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, seeks to make providers more aware of their “unconscious” biases in an effort to improve care and reduce health care inequities.

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An estimated 420,000 health care providers will need to take the training, from doctors, dentists and nurses to podiatrists, chiropractors, athletic trainers, midwives and massage therapists.

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“There’s been no push back,” said Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, which represents 130 hospitals. “Everyone realizes this is the right thing to do.”

Peters said every hospital in Michigan has signed a pledge to work to eliminate health disparities, including through implicit bias training. 

Implicit bias is the idea that unconscious beliefs can lead to wrong assumptions about people that, in the health care setting, could affect the quality of care. For example, a doctor may not offer a prescription to patients because they unconsciously assume they can’t afford it based on their appearance.  

Experts have suggested that implicit bias among health care officials could be a factor in health disparities and disproportionate care that some receive. It could also lead to a lack of understanding and trust that may make some patients less likely to seek necessary care.

Whitmer ordered the adoption of new standards early in the COVID-19 pandemic because of its disproportionate impact on Black residents, when they comprised 40 percent of all deaths even though they are just 14 percent of the state population.

Whitmer created a task force — headed by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II — which later issued a report seeking to reduce racial disparities in health outcomes, focusing most on providing better access to healthcare but also pushing for implicit bias training.

Since then, the racial disparity among COVID deaths has largely vanished, with African Amercians comprising 18 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.

Last year,  the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs drafted the new regulations that require for one to two hours of implicit bias training before getting a health care license or getting one renewed.

Those who don’t may be at risk of losing their license.

Other states, including Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland, have adopted similar measures via their legislatures. 

In Michigan, Whitmer’s administration created the rules.

With many Republicans attacking any talk of racial or ethnic differences as an unnecessary implementation of “woke” culture, Florida and Iowa have enacted laws that prohibit some anti-racism training. Some critics have said those laws would block “implicit bias” instruction.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

Republicans in Michigan have supported implicit bias training for police officers, but also passed legislation that would have blocked K-12 schools from teaching “implicit race or gender stereotyping.”  

Neither bill has passed both chambers or become law.

Online, some health care professionals have grumbled about the new requirements, with one  Kalamazoo doctor saying he treats “individuals NOT racial or ethnic groups.”

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Jodie Sengstock, an Allen Park podiatrist, said she hasn’t heard complaints, and professional groups have been good about offering classes. 

But she said she is concerned that additional licensing requirements are adding up. Podiatrists must take 150 credits every three years and the state now requires additional training on opioids and recognizing drug trafficking, Sengstock said.

“I don’t think that anyone has an issue with taking a one-hour training in disparities,” she told Bridge Michigan.

Editor's note: This story was updated on 12:30 p.m. May 12 to note the policy begins on June 1. An earlier version stated that was the deadline to take the training.

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