Do African-American and Hispanic patients feel welcome at your practice?

By Aine Cryts

Does it matter whether patients believe their doctors care about them and see them as equals? Yes, according to a recent study published in Social Science Research, which found that if people think their doctor doesn't care about their health, they may stop seeking their care.

Moreover, African Americans and Hispanics were significantly less likely than non-Hispanic whites to trust their doctors, Emory University researchers found.

Still, the picture is a bit more complicated, explained an article in Latin Post. Doctors tend to engender less trust from African American patients in terms of their ability to interact with them and their technical judgment. The results were similar among Hispanic patients--though this demographic group also didn't trust that physicians would act in their best interests.

While the specific trust gaps may vary among races, study lead author Abigail Sewell, an assistant professor of sociology at Emory University, told the newspaper, they all manifest themselves in health consequences. "If they don't have an emotional connection with their doctor, they're not as committed to the doctor's recommendations or are less likely to seek help in the first place. That social distance, a belief that the doctor doesn't care about them as a person, creates less buy-in from the patient," she said.

There are measures your practice can take to increase cultural competency and improve patient care, as previously reported in FiercePracticeManagement. These include:

  • Hiring staff who speak the same language as your patients
  • Paying for team members to learn another language
  • Training staff to greet patients in their native language
  • Asking non-native speakers to teach you how to say a few words in their language
  • Educating your team on the culture, behavior, and beliefs of the ethnic populations you serve by inviting an expert from an area college to speak at your practice

Understanding your patients' cultural values and speaking their language can also lead to a great appreciation for preventive care. But it's not easy for patients to find culturally diverse physicians. In 2014, a mere 5.5 percent of physicians and surgeons identified as African-American and only 6.3 percent as Hispanic.

The good news is state-level efforts to increase diversity among physicians are showing promise: In 2014, the number of Hispanic and African-American students who enrolled at medical schools increased.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the article