Background: Substantial pain prevalence is as high as 40% in community populations. There is consistent evidence that racial/ethnic minority individuals are overrepresented among those who experience such pain and whose pain management is inadequate.
Questions/purposes: The objectives of this paper are to (1) define parameters of and summarize evidence pertinent to racial/ethnic minority disparities in pain management, (2) identify factors contributing to observed disparities, and (3) identify strategies to minimize the disparities.
Methods: Scientific literature was selectively reviewed addressing pain epidemiology, differences in pain management of non-Hispanic whites versus racial/ethnic minority groups, and patient and physician factors contributing to such differences.
Results: Racial/ethnic minorities consistently receive less adequate treatment for acute and chronic pain than non-Hispanic whites, even after controlling for age, gender, and pain intensity. Pain intensity underreporting appears to be a major contribution of minority individuals to pain management disparities. The major contribution by physicians to such disparities appears to reflect limited awareness of their own cultural beliefs and stereotypes regarding pain, minority individuals, and use of narcotic analgesics.
Conclusions: Racial/ethnic minority patients with pain need to be empowered to accurately report pain intensity levels, and physicians who treat such patients need to acknowledge their own belief systems regarding pain and develop strategies to overcome unconscious, but potentially harmful, negative stereotyping of minority patients.