Opinion: Why it’s dangerous for Michigan to assume I’m biased against my patients

Why is Michigan trying to destroy the doctor-patient relationship with identity politics?

That’s my question as a recently retired doctor who spent 30 years helping Michigan patients through my practice in Toledo, Ohio. I am profoundly offended by the state’s new mandate that I and every other medical professional take “implicit bias training” every year.

Not only does this baseless mandate insult doctors like me, it is also sure to ruin patients’ trust in their medical providers and lead to worse health outcomes for the very people it’s supposed to help.

I have been licensed in Michigan for years, and last month, the state’s licensing board reached out to inform me that I have to take this “implicit bias training” to maintain my ability to practice in the state. I will not be doing so since I retired in April. Yet I am still deeply disturbed at what Michigan is forcing on all my fellow medical professionals.

Michigan has all but accused us of having implicit bias, which the state defines as “an attitude or internalized stereotype that affects an individual’s perception, action or decision making in an unconscious manner and often contributes to unequal treatment.”

While I fundamentally and wholeheartedly refute that I am biased, it is impossible, by design, to convince the state, since my bias is supposedly “unconscious.”

How convenient: I am guilty by definition. And apparently I have no hope for redemption, since the training is a never-ending, annual obligation. The message is that doctor bias is a permanently unsolvable problem, even after mandatory classes year after year.

Michigan couldn’t be more wrong, for many reasons. It provides no proof or documentation that inherent bias exists. For that matter, there’s no proof that implicit bias training works, beyond insulting and punishing doctors.

More to the point, every doctor I’ve ever met treats patients as unique individuals with specific medical needs, regardless of who they are or what they look like. We work hard to relate to our patients, understand their conditions and propose tailored treatments and follow-ups. There’s no bias from them — there’s only a sworn devotion to serve our patients’ best interests.

Besides, in my case, bias is largely impossible. My primary responsibility is the interpretation of medical images, so I never meet most of my patents. I only see their images, along with some clinical information provided by the ordering doctors. I almost never know their race, sexual preference, preferred pronouns or other identities which I am now accused of being biased against.

Yet Michigan still asserts that I and every other health care provider is biased. This accusation will foster bitterness among providers who are already suffering from high levels of stress and burnout. You can bet more doctors will leave the medical profession because of this mandate.

Furthermore, implicit bias training suggests to patients that their providers are treating them less equally and providing them with worse care. This is the most dangerous consequence of all.

Think about it: If you’re told your doctor is biased against you, then why will you go see them? If your unconsciously hateful provider recommends a treatment or follow-up, why would you accept their advice? After all, they’re supposedly predisposed to treat you worse, so you have no reason to see them, listen to them or even access medical care at all.

Under this worldview, the entire medical system is permanently rigged. When something is rigged, you steer clear.

I cannot imagine anything more destructive to health care. Michigan’s mandate is an unjustified and unscientific interference in the near sacred doctor-patient relationship.

Unlike other annual medical training requirements, “implicit bias training” has nothing to do with medicine. But it has everything to do with identity politics and, as such, it will undermine medical care and outcomes for countless people.

It should not be a requirement to receive or maintain a medical license in Michigan — or any state.

Dr. Daniel A. Dessner is a retired radiologist in Toledo, Ohio. He is a member of Do No Harm.