Perceived racial discrimination in health care and its association with patients' healthcare experiences: does the measure matter?

Ethn Dis. 2010 Winter;20(1):40-7.


Objectives: Examine whether three measures of perceived racial discrimination in health care detect similar rates of discrimination and show similar associations with patients' healthcare experiences.

Design: Cross-sectional observational study involving telephone surveys and medical record reviews.

Setting: Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Participants: 50 White and 50 African American veterans with diabetes.

Main outcome measures: Three types of measures of perceived racial discrimination in health care were compared: single-item and multi-item measures assessing personal experiences of discrimination in healthcare settings, and a measure assessing general racism in the healthcare system. Associations of each measure with patient-reported problems with their medical care and receipt of recommended preventive screenings were also explored.

Results: More African American than White veterans reported perceived discrimination on all measures (personal discrimination, single-item: 42% vs 6%, P<.001; personal discrimination, multi-item: 42% vs 18%, P=.01; general racism: 74% vs 40%, P=.001). In the total sample, discrimination was more likely to be reported on the general racism measure than on the single-item (OR=36.53, 95% CI=7.95-167.89) or multi-item measures (OR=20.28, 95% CI=5.12-80.34) of personal discrimination. The multi-item measure of personal discrimination (OR=3.96, 95% CI=1.29-12.18) and general racism measure (OR=3.61, 95% CI=1.34-9.71) were significantly associated with patient-reported problems with their care. Receipt of recommended screenings was not associated with any of the discrimination measures.

Conclusions: Different measures of perceived racial discrimination in healthcare settings yield different rates of discrimination and show variable associations with patients' perceptions of care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Veterans
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Patient Satisfaction / ethnology*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data
  • Perception*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prejudice*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Whites / psychology