Is race a factor when communicating with patients?

July 1, 2005

During medical visits, physicians communicate differently with African-Americans than with white patients.

During medical visits, physicians communicate differently with African-Americans than with white patients. At least that's the suggestion of a study in the American Journal of Public Health (12/04). Specifically, the researchers found that physicians were more likely to dominate the conversation with black patients. The 61 participating physicians-of various ethnic backgrounds-talked 43% more than African-American patients and 24% more than Caucasian patients during visits. The researchers also found that visits with African-American patients were less patient-centered and had a less positive tone than with whites.

These factors, rather than time constraints, may contribute to the health disparities associated with race or ethnicity, suggest the researchers. They recommend that physicians and those in training take communication skills courses that focus on building rapport with patients and engaging them-especially African-Americans-in discussions about their care.