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Earning Patient Trust: More Than a Question of Signaling

Abstract: Laura Specker Sullivan’s article “Trust, Risk, and Race in American Medicine” is a philosophically grounded and highly practical call for medical professionals to take on the task of comprehending the sources of patients’ mistrust. This is not only a clinical competence but also a moral obligation, in particular, when mistrust is warranted—as with African American patients who rely on medical institutions that have breached and continue to breach the trust of their communities. While Specker Sullivan focuses on how clinicians can signal comprehension once it has already been attained, I wish to step back and examine the nature of the efforts to gain knowledge. The effort to comprehend requires, at a minimum, the following actions: educating oneself about medical racism, examining one’s implicit biases, and engaging, with empathic curiosity, with the patient or family members in the clinical encounter at hand.

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