Teaching Center and Department of Emergency Medicine: research to avoid ’immigration bias’ in pain management

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Vulnerable groups, such as immigrants, face particular challenges in the health care system. Stereotypes, such as the insinuation of exaggerated pain expression, can have a significant impact on the care of these patients. A joint study by the MedUni Vienna Teaching Center and the Department of Emergency Medicine at MedUni Vienna has now been able to show: MedUni Vienna students who were confronted with migrant and non-migrant patients presented in the course Medical Conversation Management treated both groups adequately according to the pain intensity indicated by the patients. The results of the study were published in the international journal European Journal of Emergency Medicine.

However, differences were found in the details of the initial selection of pain therapy. The researchers were also able to show a gender effect: While female and male patients were treated in the same way, female students classified the patients’ pain higher and "administered" pain medication more frequently, regardless of the patients’ gender. Students who themselves come from immigrant families showed the same results as those with Austrian roots.

The study included more than 600 students in their second year of study in human medicine, one third of whom were immigrants themselves.

At the Teaching Center of the Medical University of Vienna, future physicians train the doctor-patient conversation with so-called simulation patients. These are professional actors and actresses who portray patients and their life and illness stories as part of the mandatory student communication course ("Medical Conversations"). In small-group lessons, the students conduct conversations on given topics with the simulation patients, who then provide the students with professional feedback to further develop their communication skills.

The work was developed as a collaborative project between a team led by Dominik Roth from the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Teaching Center. In addition to Anita Holzinger, head of the Research Unit for Curriculum Development, Andjela Bäwert, who recently passed away much too early, played a leading role.

Publication: European Journal of Emergency Medicine

Immigration bias among medical students: a randomized controlled trial.
Grafeneder Jürgen, Baewert Andjela, Katz Henri, Holzinger Anita, Niederdoeckl Jan, Roth Dominik
European Journal of Emergency Medicine:10.1097/MEJ.0000000000001057, August 25, 2023.