Patients' attitudes toward health care providers collecting information about their race and ethnicity

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Oct;20(10):895-900. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0195.x.


Background: Experts recommend that health care providers (HCPs) collect patients' race/ethnicity, but HCPs worry that this may alienate patients.

Objective: To determine patients' attitudes toward HCPs collecting race/ethnicity data.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Participants: General Internal Medicine patients (n=220).

Measurements: Perceived importance of having HCPs collect race/ethnicity data, their concerns about this, comfort level providing this information, and reactions to 4 statements explaining the rationale for collecting this.

Results: Approximately 80% somewhat or strongly agreed that HCPs should collect information on patients' race/ethnicity. However, 28% had significant discomfort (score 5 or less on 10-point scale) reporting their own race/ethnicity to a clerk, and 58% were somewhat or very concerned that this information could be used to discriminate against patients. Compared with whites, blacks, and Hispanics felt less strongly that HCPs should collect race/ethnicity data from patients (P=.04 for both pairwise comparisons), and blacks were less comfortable reporting their own race/ethnicity than whites (P=.03). Telling patients that this information would be used for monitoring quality of care improved comfort more than telling patients that the data collected (a) was mandated by others, (b) would be used to guide staff hiring and training, and (c) would be used to ensure the patient got the best care possible.

Conclusions: Most patients think HCPs should collect information about race/ethnicity, but many feel uncomfortable giving this information, especially among minorities. Health care providers can increase patients' comfort levels by telling them this will be used to monitor quality of care.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Racial Groups
  • Surveys and Questionnaires