Indigenous bias training rolls out to Ontario healthcare workers

Thousands of Ontario healthcare workers will be trained to catch their own preconceived notions that could lead to an Indigenous patient’s misdiagnosis or death.

"These strongly held stereotypes that people aren't aware of end up shaping practice"

Thousands of Ontario healthcare workers will be trained to catch preconceived notions that could lead to an Indigenous patient's misdiagnosis or death.

The program, called Indigenous Cultural Safety Training, was rolled out to the province at a ceremony in London on Thursday.

The program is run out of the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, headquartered in the city.

About 8,000 health care workers have already taken the training program, which is now being offered in all of Ontario.

Biases cause treatment delays, death 

"These strongly held stereotypes that people aren't aware of end up shaping practice," said Diane Smylie, the provincial director for the Ontario Indigenous Cultural Safety program.

"Even really well-intentioned, good health care practitioners, when it comes to clinical assessments and diagnosis, they're missing or misinterpreting what they're seeing," 

Smylie points to alcohol and stereotypes associated with Indigenous people's drinking habits. 

"In the emergency room, when someone is presenting with some symptoms, they're asked if they're intoxicated or in withdrawal. We hear of people whose treatment gets delayed or denied or there's a misdiagnosis. It even results in death," she said.

Some Indigenous people have said they delay going to see a doctor because of fear of how they will be treated.

Biases 'the fabric of our country'

The main curriculum was developed in British Columbia but it has been adapted for Ontario. Based on initial workshops, the feedback from healthcare workers has been positive, with many saying they were shocked and dismayed at the biases they didn't know they had. 

​"(These biases) are sadly the fabric of our country," Smylie said this morning on CBC's London Morning.

This training is a first step in the journey of unlearning those biases, she added.