Objective: Little is known about why black patients and other ethnic/racial minorities are less likely to receive the best treatments independent of clinical appropriateness, payer, and treatment site. Although both provider and patient behavior have been suggested as possible explanatory factors, the potential role of provider behavior has remained largely unexplored. Does provider behavior contribute to systematic inequities? If so, why? The purpose of this paper is to build on existing evidence to provide an integrated, coherent, and sound approach to future research on the provider contribution to race/ethnicity disparities in medical care. First, the existing evidence suggestive of a provider contribution to race/ethnicity variance in medical care is discussed. Second, a proposed causal model, based on a review of the social cognition and provider behavior literature, representing an integrated set of hypothesized mechanisms through which physician behavior may contribute to race/ethnicity disparities in care is presented.
Conclusion: There is sufficient evidence for the hypothesis that provider behavior contributes to race/ethnicity disparities in care to warrant further study. Although there is some evidence of support of the hypotheses that both provider beliefs about of patients and provider behavior during encounters are independently influenced by patient race/ethnicity further systematic rigorous study is needed and is proposed as a major immediate research priority. These mechanisms deserve intensive research focus as they may prove to be the most promising targets for interventions intended to ameliorate the provider contribution to disparities in care.