There are significant disparities in the quality of patient care for people of color in the United States, including for Black children and their families. Within the pediatric field, disparities in care can potentially impact lifelong health outcomes for children. This webinar, made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined the impacts of conscious and unconscious provider bias, particularly as expressed through written and verbal communication. Speakers explored the power of language in medical settings and its impact on health disparities for historically stigmatized groups and share opportunities to improve trust between patients, families, and care providers.

This webinar featured a researcher and professor of medicine who shared insights on the harmful effects of stigmatizing language in medical records on care delivery; a parent and family advocate who provided experiences of positive interactions with medical providers that are rooted in mutual respect as well as instances of broken trust; and a pediatrician who addressed how the words used by providers can either empower or denigrate patients and families.

YouTube video


I. Welcome and Introduction

Speakers: Armelle Casau, PhD, Senior Program Officer, Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS); Hannah Gears, MSW, Program Officer, CHCS; and Nikki Montgomery, MA, MEd, Project Director for the Administration for Community Living Health Care Transition Project, Family Voices

A. Casau and N. Montgomery welcomed participants, raised the issue of significant disparities in health care quality experienced by people of color, and discussed the importance of recent research related to language, bias, and empathy in patient care. H. Gears introduced the featured speakers and facilitated the discussion.

II. The Link Between Stigmatizing Language and Patient Care

Speaker: Mary Catherine Beach, MD, MPH, Core Faculty, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

M.C. Beach shared her research that explores how stigmatizing language in electronic medical records can influence a future provider’s perception of the patient, potentially undermine a patient’s testimony during a medical encounter, and reflect bias — particularly racial bias. She shared opportunities for clinicians to reduce bias and stigma by using respectful language in medical notes.

III. Opportunities to Build Trust Between Patients, Families, and Providers

Speaker: Nikki Montgomery, Family Voices

Grounded in her personal and professional experience, N. Montgomery shared promising practices and considerations to promote positive interactions between patients, families, and pediatric providers. In particular, she shared ways that patients and providers can build trust and honor the strengths of children and their parents.

IV. Increasing Awareness Among Pediatric Providers

Speaker: Ben Danielson, MD, Pediatrician and Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine

B. Danielson highlighted the need for all medical providers to be more aware of the impact that verbal and non-verbal communication with patients and families can have, particularly on historically stigmatized groups who often internalize this bias.