Objectives: To determine: 1) whether racial and ethnic differences exist in patients' perceptions of primary care provider (PCP) and general health care system-related bias and cultural competence; and 2) whether these differences are explained by patient demographics, source of care, or patient-provider communication variables.
Design: Cross-sectional telephone survey.
Setting: The Commonwealth Fund 2001 Health Care Quality Survey.
Subjects: A total of 6,299 white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian adults.
Measurements and main results: Interviews were conducted using random-digit dialing; oversampling respondents from communities with high racial/ethnic minority concentrations; and yielding a 54.3% response rate. Main outcomes address respondents' perceptions of their PCPs' and health care system-related bias and cultural competence; adjusted probabilities (Pr) are reported for each ethnic group. Most racial/ethnic differences in perceptions of PCP bias and cultural competence were explained by demographics, source of care, and patient-physician communication variables. In contrast, racial/ethnic differences in patient perceptions of health care system-wide bias and cultural competence persisted even after controlling for confounders: African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians remained more likely than whites (P <.001) to perceive that: 1) they would have received better medical care if they belonged to a different race/ethnic group (Pr 0.13, Pr 0.08, Pr 0.08, and Pr 0.01, respectively); and 2) medical staff judged them unfairly or treated them with disrespect based on race/ethnicity (Pr 0.06, Pr 0.04, Pr 0.06, and Pr 0.01, respectively) and how well they speak English (Pr 0.09, Pr 0.06, Pr 0.06, and Pr 0.03, respectively).
Conclusion: While demographics, source of care, and patient-physician communication explain most racial and ethnic differences in patient perceptions of PCP cultural competence, differences in perceptions of health care system-wide bias and cultural competence are not fully explained by such factors. Future research should include closer examination of the sources of cultural bias in the US medical system.