Attitudes toward health care providers, collecting information about patients' race, ethnicity, and language

Med Care. 2007 Nov;45(11):1034-42. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318127148f.


Background: Experts recommend that health care providers (HCPs) collect patients' race/ethnicity and language, but we know little about public attitudes towards this.

Objectives: To determine attitudes towards HCPs collecting race/ethnicity and language data.

Participants: A telephone survey was held with 563 Californians, including 105 whites, 97 blacks, 199 Hispanics (162 Spanish-speaking), 129 Asians (73 Chinese-speaking), and 33 multiracial individuals.

Measures: Attitudes towards HCPs asking patients their race/ethnicity and preferred language, concerns about providing their own information, reactions to statements explaining the rationale for data collection, and attitudes towards possible policies.

Results: Most (87.8%) somewhat or strongly agreed that HCPs should collect race/ethnicity information and use this to monitor disparities, and 73.6% supported state legislation requiring this. Support for collection of patients' preferred language was even higher. However, 17.2% were uncomfortable (score 1-4 on 10-point scale) reporting their own race/ethnicity, and 46.3% of participants were somewhat or very worried that providing information could be used to discriminate against them. In addition, 35.9% of Hispanics were uncomfortable reporting their English proficiency. All statements explaining the rationale for data collection modestly increased participants' comfort level; the statement that this would be used for staff training increased comfort the most.

Conclusions: Although most surveyed believe that HCPs should collect information about race/ethnicity and language, many feel uncomfortable giving this information and worry it could be misused. Statements explaining the rationale for collecting data may assuage concerns, but community engagement and legislation to prevent misuse may be needed to gain more widespread trust and comfort.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires