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Racial matching of patients and physicians does not necessarily lead to better quality of care

Some people advocate increasing the number of black doctors to enhance medical care in black communities and improve health outcomes among the poor and disadvantaged. They believe that black doctors understand the cultural and social context of illness in the black community, more effectively communicate with black patients, and thus deliver better care to them. However, it is not necessary for black patients to be treated by black doctors to achieve better care, concludes a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (National Research Service Award training grant T32 HS00032).

University of North Carolina researchers examined how racial matching between 2,867 elderly North Carolina patients and their regular physicians related to effectiveness of care, use of services, and satisfaction with care. The researchers interviewed the patients and screened them for high blood pressure (hypertension). They found that elderly black patients with hypertension were more likely to take antihypertensive medication than whites, regardless of their physician's race. Also, white elders with black doctors were more likely to delay suggested care, while black elders were less likely to delay care, regardless of their physician's race.

White elders with white physicians were less likely than any other elder-physician dyad to be told that they had high blood pressure, to have been given medicine for it, or to be currently taking that medicine. Patients with black doctors were less likely to be very satisfied than were patients of white doctors (26 vs. 40 percent). White elders with black doctors were most likely to be very dissatisfied with care among all racial dyads (11 percent), while white elders with white doctors were most likely to be very satisfied with care (43 percent).

See "Physician-patient racial matching, effectiveness of care, use of services, and patient satisfaction," by Daniel L. Howard, Ph.D., Thomas R. Konrad, Ph.D., Catherine Stevens, and Carol Q. Porter, in the January 2001 Research on Aging 23(1), pp. 83-108.

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