Primary care physicians' attitudes regarding race-based therapies

J Gen Intern Med. 2010 May;25(5):384-9. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1190-7.


Background: There is little to no information on whether race should be considered in the exam room by those who care for and treat patients. How primary care physicians understand the relationship between genes, race and drugs has the potential to influence both individual care and racial and ethnic health disparities.

Objective: To describe physicians' use of race-based therapies, with specific attention to the case of BiDil (isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine), the first drug approved by the FDA for a race-specific indication, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ace) inhibitors in their black and white patients.

Design: Qualitative study involving 10 focus groups with 90 general internists.

Participants: Black and white general internists recruited from community and academic internal medicine practices participated in the focus groups.Of the participants 64% were less than 45 years of age, and 73% were male.

Approach: The focus groups were transcribed verbatim, and the data were analyzed using template analysis.

Results: There was a range of opinions relating to the practice of race-based therapies. Physicians who were supportive of race-based therapies cited several potential benefits including motivating patients to comply with medical therapy and promoting changes in health behaviors by creating the perception that the medication and therapies were tailored specifically for them. Physicians acknowledged that in clinical practice some medications vary in their effectiveness across different racial groups, with some physicians citing the example of ace inhibitors. However, physicians voiced concern that black patients who could benefit from ace inhibitors may not be receiving them. They were also wary that the category of race reflected meaningful differences on a genetic level. In the case of BiDil, physicians were vocal in their concern that commercial interests were the primary impetus behind its creation.

Conclusions: Primary care physicians' opinions regarding race-based therapy reveal a nuanced understanding of race-based therapies and a wariness of their use by physicians.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel / ethnology*
  • Black People / ethnology*
  • Black People / psychology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Heart Failure / drug therapy
  • Heart Failure / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Hydralazine / therapeutic use*
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians, Primary Care* / psychology
  • Racial Groups / ethnology
  • Racial Groups / psychology
  • White People / ethnology*
  • White People / psychology


  • Drug Combinations
  • isosorbide-hydralazine combination
  • Hydralazine
  • Isosorbide Dinitrate