Women, Minorities More Likely to Get MD of Choice

John Commins, July 22, 2010

Emergency physicians are more likely to honor the requests of women and racial minorities to see a doctor of their same gender, race, or religious background, a University of Michigan Health System-led study shows.

One-third of the 176 physicians surveyed at the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly said patients perceive they get better care from racial, gender, or ethnic matching, even though there is no evidence to support that perception.

The U-M study—conducted with the University of Rochester, and University of Pennsylvania—showed Muslim patients were the most likely to have their request accommodated.

Women and minorities appear more likely to make a doctor request, and female physicians are more supportive of that request than are male physicians, according to the study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

“Some patients prefer, and are more satisfied with, providers of the same gender, race, or faith,” says lead author and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar Aasim I. Padela, MD, an emergency physician at U-M. “This study is the first to look at the culture of accommodation in the emergency department.”

Black patients tend to rate black providers higher in quality and Hispanics are more satisfied with care received from Hispanic providers. Similarly a large percentage of Asians seek care from providers of a similar background.

Padela says the reasons patients make the request are more complex than doctors may think, and can include prior discrimination, feelings of a lack of cultural sensitivity, and language difficulties.

Physicians appear unaware of these patient experiences, which could affect physicians’ attitude toward honoring patient requests and strategies to improve workforce diversity, Padela says. Roughly 80% of the nation’s emergency physicians are white.

The study showed that greater physician diversity is one solution for addressing racial health disparities because physicians and patients who share common values and language are more likely to develop stable healthcare relationships.

“Within healthcare, and particularly within the emergency department, provider and patient matching is not entirely possible, nor in line with our value system,” Padela says. “A better approach is to enhance cultural sensitivity and compassionate care.”


John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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