Background: African-American patients who visit physicians of the same race rate their medical visits as more satisfying and participatory than do those who see physicians of other races. Little research has investigated the communication process in race-concordant and race-discordant medical visits.
Objectives: To compare patient-physician communication in race-concordant and race-discordant visits and examine whether communication behaviors explain differences in patient ratings of satisfaction and participatory decision making.
Design: Cohort study with follow-up using previsit and postvisit surveys and audiotape analysis.
Setting: 16 urban primary care practices.
Patients: 252 adults (142 African-American patients and 110 white patients) receiving care from 31 physicians (of whom 18 were African-American and 13 were white).
Measurements: Audiotape measures of patient-centeredness, patient ratings of physicians' participatory decision-making styles, and overall satisfaction.
Results: Race-concordant visits were longer (2.15 minutes [95% CI, 0.60 to 3.71]) and had higher ratings of patient positive affect (0.55 point, [95% CI, 0.04 to 1.05]) compared with race-discordant visits. Patients in race-concordant visits were more satisfied and rated their physicians as more participatory (8.42 points [95% CI, 3.23 to 13.60]). Audiotape measures of patient-centered communication behaviors did not explain differences in participatory decision making or satisfaction between race-concordant and race-discordant visits.
Conclusions: Race-concordant visits are longer and characterized by more patient positive affect. Previous studies link similar communication findings to continuity of care. The association between race concordance and higher patient ratings of care is independent of patient-centered communication, suggesting that other factors, such as patient and physician attitudes, may mediate the relationship. Until more evidence is available regarding the mechanisms of this relationship and the effectiveness of intercultural communication skills programs, increasing ethnic diversity among physicians may be the most direct strategy to improve health care experiences for members of ethnic minority groups.