Racial differences in how patients perceive physician communication regarding cardiac testing

Tracie C Collins, Jack A Clark, Laura A Petersen, Nancy R Kressin
Medical Care 2002, 40 (1): I27-34

OBJECTIVES: Recent studies documenting racial variation in the use of cardiac procedures highlight the need to understand if there are racial differences in processes of communication and decision making. Investigations of patients' perceptions of their interaction with providers regarding cardiac testing were conducted.

METHODS: Four focus groups were convened with 13 patients who had undergone cardiac stress testing with positive results, stratified by race (white vs. black). Verbatim transcripts of discussions of their interactions with providers relating to their cardiac problems were analyzed qualitatively by a team of behavioral scientists and general internists to identify significant dimensions of communication and patient-provider relationships.

RESULTS: Four domains of communication were identified that appeared to bear on patients' comfort and preferences regarding cardiac procedures. First, the substance of the information that was provided by physicians and other providers was described as incomplete, vague, ambiguous, and unclear. Second, some recommendations either were inconsistent with expectations or awakened fears based on distressing previous experiences. Third, patients said they needed to be convinced of the need for additional, invasive tests and therapeutic procedures, and in some cases providers' arguments failed in this regard. Fourth, the patients highlighted the importance of trusting their provider. Although there were no apparent differences by race in patients' perception of the information they received, black patients consistently expressed a preference for building a relationship with physicians (trust) before agreeing to an invasive cardiac procedure, and just as consistently complained that trust was lacking. Conversely, white patients tended to emphasize that they were inadequately convinced of the need for recommended procedures.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provided qualitative information regarding patients' perceptions of physician-patient communication and racial differences in such perceptions. For both black and white patients, we found problematic aspects of the patients' experiences regarding communication about cardiac testing. Our findings suggest that although patients desire clarity from physicians, they are often confused regarding the information received. Both a lack of substance and vagueness of the information received may be linked to feelings of mistrust toward physicians when considering further diagnostic testing. Mistrust may be a source of some of the documented racial variation in health care utilization.

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