Differences in the patterns of health care system distrust between blacks and whites

J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Jun;23(6):827-33. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0561-9. Epub 2008 Feb 26.


Context: Although health care-related distrust may contribute to racial disparities in health and health care in the US, current evidence about racial differences in distrust is often conflicting, largely limited to measures of physician trust, and rarely linked to multidimensional trust or distrust.

Objective: To test the hypothesis that racial differences in health care system distrust are more closely linked to values distrust than to competence distrust.

Design: Cross-sectional telephone survey.

Participants: Two hundred fifty-five individuals (144 black, 92 white) who had been treated in primary care practices or the emergency department of a large, urban Mid-Atlantic health system.

Primary measures: Race, scores on the overall health care system distrust scale and on the 2 distrust subscales, values distrust and competence distrust.

Results: In univariate analysis, overall health care system distrust scores were slightly higher among blacks than whites (25.8 vs 24.1, p = .05); however, this difference was driven by racial differences in values distrust scores (15.4 vs 13.8, p = .003) rather than in competence distrust scores (10.4 vs 10.3, p = .85). After adjustment for socioeconomic status, health/psychological status, and health care access, individuals in the top quartile of values distrust were significantly more likely to be black (odds ratio = 2.60, 95% confidence interval = 1.03-6.58), but there was no significant association between race and competence distrust.

Conclusions: Racial differences in health care system distrust are complex with far greater differences seen in the domain of values distrust than in competence distrust. This framework may be useful for explaining the mixed results of studies of race and health care-related distrust to date, for the design of future studies exploring the causes of racial disparities in health and health care, and for the development and testing of novel strategies for reducing these disparities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction / ethnology*
  • Philadelphia
  • Primary Health Care
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Social Values
  • Trust*
  • White People / psychology*