Ethnic discordance: Why do some patients prefer to be treated by physicians from other ethnic groups?

Soc Sci Med. 2019 Aug:235:112358. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112358. Epub 2019 Jun 7.


Current literature on patient-physician concordance emphasizes its advantages. Racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic concordance was found to impact patient-physician communication positively and to lead to improved healthcare quality and outcomes. Patients' preference for ethnic discordance, on the other hand, appears anomalous and has barely been studied. The present research sought to evaluate the rates of patients from the Jewish majority and the Arab minority populations in Israel who prefer patient-physician ethnic discordance, and to examine the reasons for this preference. A mixed method methodology was employed: a survey (n = 760; 505 Jews, 255 Arabs), as well an exploratory qualitative study based on in-depth interviews with 38 Jewish and Arab patients in Israel. The survey's findings indicate that Arabs are more likely to prefer to be treated by a Jewish physician than are Jews to prefer an Arab physician (family physician - 4.3% vs. 0.4%, p < .0001; surgeon - 5.9% vs. 0.8%, p < .0001). The difference is age-dependent: young Arabs are more likely than older ones to prefer a Jewish physician. The reasons for Arabs' preference for a Jewish physician are fear of a breach of confidentiality, and internalized racism. The reasons for Jews' preference for an Arab physician are the disposition and professionalism attributed to the latter, which are perceived to stem from their need, as a minority population, to excel and to prove themselves. Despite the emphasis placed in scholarship and clinical practice on the importance of cultural and linguistic competency in healthcare, a preference for ethnic discordance should also be taken into account, especially regarding patients from minority collectivist populations.

Keywords: Arabs; Confidentiality; Internalized racism; Israel; Patient–physician discordance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arabs / psychology
  • Arabs / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnicity / psychology*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Israel / ethnology
  • Jews / psychology
  • Jews / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / ethnology
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Racism / ethnology
  • Racism / psychology
  • Racism / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires