Racial differences in doctors' information-giving and patients' participation

Howard S Gordon, Richard L Street, Barbara F Sharf, Julianne Souchek
Cancer 2006 September 15, 107 (6): 1313-20

BACKGROUND: Whether doctor-patient communication differs by race was investigated in patients with pulmonary nodules or lung cancer.

METHODS: Eligible patients (n = 137) had pulmonary nodules or lung cancer and were seen in thoracic surgery or oncology clinics for initial treatment recommendations at a large southern Veterans Affairs Medical Center from 2001-2004. Doctor-patient consultations were audiotaped. Audiotapes were transcribed, unitized into utterances, and utterances were coded as doctors' information-giving or patients' and companions' active participation (asking questions, expressing concerns, and making assertions). Data were compared by patient race and doctor-patient racial concordance using t-tests or chi-square tests as appropriate. Mixed linear regression was used to determine the independent predictors of doctor's information-giving after controlling for clustering of patients by doctor.

RESULTS: Patient age, gender, marital status, clinical site, and health status were similar by race (P > .20), but black patients were somewhat less likely to have education beyond high school and to bring a companion to the visit (P = .06) than white patients. Black patients and their companions received significantly less information from doctors (49.3 vs. 87.3 mean utterances; P < .001) and produced significantly fewer active participation utterances (21.4 vs. 37.2; P < .001) than white patients. In mixed regression analyses, after adjusting for patients' and companions' participation, clustering by doctor, and other factors, race no longer predicted information-giving (P = .54). Patients in racially discordant interactions received significantly less information and were significantly less active participants (P < .001) when compared with patients in racially concordant interactions, and after controlling for patients' participation and other factors using mixed regression, racial discordance did not predict information-giving.

CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate a pattern of communication that may perpetuate patient passivity and limited information exchange where black patients and patients in discordant interactions do less to prompt doctors for information and doctors in turn provide less information to these patients.

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