Urban: Black and Hispanic adults very unlikely to have provider of same race

Black adults were much, much less likely to be seen by a regular provider of their own race compared to white adults, according to a new study. 

The study, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, underscores the scope of the challenge the Biden administration faces as it seeks to increase representation among providers as part of a bid to improve health equity. Researchers called for making medical education more affordable for underrepresented groups. 

“Trust is part of the foundation of good patient-provider relationships and is especially important for communities of color, who have long been discriminated against in healthcare. Having a provider who looks like you and shares your experiences builds trust,” said Jacquelynn Orr, the program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement.

The Urban Institute, which conducted the study, looked at results from an April 2021 survey of more than 9,000 adults. 

Urban found that only 22.2% of Black adults surveyed had a regular provider of the same race, compared with 73.8% of white adults and adults of additional races at 34.4%.

Only 23.1% of Hispanic adults surveyed also had a provider who was Hispanic. 

There are some caveats to the study, including that not all respondents had a usual healthcare provider.

“About 30% of all respondents and 45% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents indicated they did not have a usual healthcare provider,” the study said. “This likely reflects systemic factors including lower access to affordable employer coverage due to the nature of a person’s job, eligibility restrictions and immigration concerns.”

Urban pegged the major disparity in provider representation on limited access to medical education for people of color, including in medical schools; as of 1948, about a third didn’t accept any Black students. 

Providers need to also work on diversifying staff that can speak multiple languages. 

“Offering bonuses and higher pay for healthcare workers who speak multiple languages could also incentivize providers to add staff who speak languages other than English and to improve communication with patients whose primary languages are not English,” the study said. 

Urban’s findings come as the Biden administration has targeted getting more providers who represent underserved areas to participate in value-based care programs as part of a larger effort to improve equity. 

“We are building in elements of health equity into everything that we do from development of models and how we evaluate the models and data collecting,” said Liz Fowler, Ph.D., head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, during a Department of Health and Human Services event Wednesday celebrating the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.