By Dr. Anthony Policastro

We have known for many years that patients have certain expectations for the way physicians dress. I have written about this in the past.

A new study suggests that it might not be just the way the physician dresses that makes a difference. It was published in the June 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The goal was to see if patients reacted to race and gender of the physician treating them. There were 187 patients involved in the study. All lived in the San Francisco area.

All of them had a finger prick done using histamine. Histamine causes a local allergic reaction. Therefore all the patients had itching at the site of the wound.

They were shown to a room. All the rooms looked the same. The treating physicians all had a script to follow so the message would be the same.

They were then given a cream to treat the symptoms. What they did not know was that the cream had no medication in it. What they did not know was that the induced reaction was only temporary. It would go away on its own.

There were 13 physicians involved in the study. Some were men. Some were women. Some were white. Some were Asian-American. Some were African-American. All of the patients were white.

The goal was to see if there was any impact on healing based upon the appearance of the physician.

A survey was done before the experiment. The patients were all asked if they had any bias toward race or gender of the physician that treated them. They all indicated they did not. They all interacted very well with the treating physician.

The researchers then measured the reactions. They measured the actual size of the skin reaction. They didn’t simply just ask the patients.

The results showed that patients who were treated by male physicians had a reaction size decrease more rapidly than those treated by female physicians.

In addition, the size of the initial reaction was larger for African-American physicians than it was for white or Asian-American physicians.

It is odd that a physical reaction to histamine could be affected by things like race and gender. However, it does point out that there are multiple aspects to how we react to physicians. 

We already knew that to be the case for the way they dress. It looks like there might also be an internal reaction that our body has based upon race and gender.

COVID update- The total number of cases in Sussex County has gone from 147.29 per 100,000 people to 152.42 per 100,000 people. As far as actual numbers go, Sussex County has gone from 340 last week to 366 this week. This is in about the same range that they were between the Delta and Omicron spikes. It suggests an end to the current surge in Sussex County.

The number of inpatient beds with COVID patients has gone from 5.6 percent last week to 5.5 percent this week. That keeps us in the low risk range (less than 10 percent) for that measurement.  

New COVID admissions have dropped from 12.7 per 100,000 people to 12.6 per 100,000 people. That keeps us in the medium risk zone (between 10 and 19.9 admissions per 100,000 people) for that measurement.

That means that for this week Sussex County has stayed in the medium risk category because of inpatient admissions for COVID-19. Nationally, the numbers were 790,000 last week. This week they sit at 739,000 cases. The average number between the Delta and Omicron waves was between 500,000 and 520,000.

Some of this reflects a new normal. People are going more places. They are not wearing masks as much. They are not using hand sanitizer as much. So there will continue to be a certain level of new cases until the next surge. That will likely be in the winter unless another new variant comes along before then.

The new booster vaccines (part original COVID-19 plus part Omicron) are currently being tested by both Pfizer and Moderna. The plan is to have them ready before a winter surge takes place. It is likely that boosters will become an annual thing like the flu vaccine after that point.