Doctors in Southeastern U.S. lack multicultural awareness, stroke rates rise among blacks

A lack of multicultural awareness by doctors in the Southeastern area of the United States known as the Stroke Belt--due to the high frequency of strokes that occur in that region--coupled with a rise in stroke incidences among blacks could prove to be a dangerous combination for minority patients. 

The findings that many doctors in the Stroke Belt--Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia--lack the proper training for interacting with patients of various ethnic backgrounds were presented at the American Heart Association's 11th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke this week. Out of 697 doctors surveyed, roughly one in five believed that multicultural training was of "low importance," with black doctors seeing themselves as being the most prepared for multicultural situations. 

An accompanying patient survey of 1,189 people found that patients with black doctors reported being asked questions about family members' roles in making health decisions. Black doctors also are more likely to take more time explaining situations to confused patients, according to the patient survey. 

Such news could be troubling for black patients, considering that the occurrence of strokes in those patients rose 4.6 percent, according to a study published online in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. Although the study--which looked at data from 1999 to 2005--was limited to the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, author Dr. Dawn Kleindorfer indicated that it was "very representative of the United States as a whole" other than the lack of a Hispanic population. The region consists of 1.3 million people in urban, suburban and rural areas. 

"Doctors involved in primary prevention must motivate patients and make sure they understand the importance of changing unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoke, or taking daily medication for conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes long before those things make the patients feel ill," said Clyde Yancy, MD, lead author of the Stroke Belt studies. 

To learn more:
- check out this AHA press release
- read the abstracts of the Stroke Belt surveys (pages 20 and 77)
- read this HealthDay article
- check out this MedPage Today piece
- read the abstract of Kleindorfer's study in Stroke