In the context of healthcare, it is necessary to investigate and understand how perceptions, beliefs and behaviours influence the quality of care provided and the dynamics between healthcare professionals and patients.
But what are stereotypes?
A stereotype is a cognitive structure that contains the knowledge, beliefs and expectations held by an individual about a specific social group. Stereotypes are thus a widely shared, simplified image of a group and its members. They can be either negative or positive, but in both cases, they could have negative consequences in that they simplify reality and reduce individuality by relating it exclusively to the identity of the group to which it belongs. However, stereotypes are not necessarily inaccurate, but characteristics that may describe groups in general do not actually apply to every individual in that social category.
And what are prejudices?
Prejudice indicates an assessment made before having all the elements necessary to make a considered and reliable judgement. In addition to the cognitive component represented by the stereotype, prejudice also includes an affective component (i.e. the emotions aroused by the outgroup) and a behavioural component, (i.e. the set of behavioural intentions associated with an outgroup, which can result in discrimination). Furthermore, there are explicit prejudices, which are conscious behaviour manifested through openly discriminatory attitudes based on certain characteristics, and there are implicit prejudices, which are more hidden and unconscious and difficult to detect.
“Awareness of the existence of implicit biases is the first step in overcoming them”
It is important to keep in mind that prejudices are one of the many factors that contribute to generate inequalities in health and access to health care. It is appropriate to organise training programmes that increase awareness of the role of stereotypes and limit the influence of prejudice in the care relationship. Investigating the context and history of each user, putting oneself in the shoes of the person being cared for, increasing communication between groups, especially minority groups, improving interaction and participation of each person, can help to make person-centred care their own. It is not enough to be aware, but it is necessary to train and adopt new strategies to foster new, more inclusive responses.