Many Minority Patients Pick Doctors of Their Own Race

07/17/00    Portland, Ore.

Language, Location of Minority Physicians Are Among Factors in Selection

A study examining how minority patients pick their physicians shows that race is an important factor in the process. The study, conducted by Somnath Saha, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine in the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine, and published July 17 in the journal Health Affairs, found that nearly a quarter of blacks and Hispanics with racially concordant (same race) physicians said they explicitly considered race or ethnicity when selecting their providers.

Data from the Commonwealth Fund 1994 National Comparative Survey of Minority Health Care were analyzed for this study and indicate that while black and Hispanic physicians account for 4 percent to 5 percent of the physician pool, respectively, they care for a quarter of all black patients and 23 percent of Hispanic patients.

"These numbers are high partly because many minority physicians locate their practices in minority communities, but location is not the only factor," said Saha, also a staff physician at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Many Hispanics factored language into their choice of a physician. Other minority patients selected doctors of their own race for different reasons. What those reasons are is not entirely clear and deserves a closer look." In a previous study, Saha and colleagues found that minority patients reported better relationships with their doctors and were more satisfied with their overall health care when they saw physicians of their own race.

Results of this survey could have implications for recruitment of medical students. While blacks and Hispanics now comprise 12 percent and 11 percent of the U.S. population, by 2050 the Hispanic population alone will make up 25 percent of the nation's total. It has been estimated that creating a physician workforce that mirrors U.S. population diversity would require roughly doubling the number of blacks and Hispanics entering medical training during the next 10 years.

"Based on our analysis, medical schools and health plans might rationally argue that they need to consider race when recruiting students and practitioners in order to create a physician supply that reflects consumers' preferences, particularly as minority populations continue to grow," said Saha. Several states, including California and Washington, have banned the use of race as a consideration in admissions, hiring and contracting within public institutions.