Patients of color are significantly less likely than white patients to have a health care provider of the same race, according to a study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a disparity that could negatively impact both patient-provider relationships and health outcomes.
Study details and key findings
For the study, which was conducted by the Urban Institute, researchers analyzed the April 2021 edition of the organization's Health Reform Monitoring Survey, which had more than 9,000 adult participants between the ages of 18 and 64.
Overall, the researchers found that patients of color are significantly less likely to have a health care provider of the same race than white patients. Compared with 73.8% of white adults, only 22.2% of Black adults and 34.4% of adults of additional races reported being the same race as their health care providers.
In addition, less than a quarter of Hispanic/Latinx adults (23.1%) reported that they had a provider of the same race and ethnicity who also spoke to them in their preferred language.
However, the researchers noted some limitations to the study, including how not all respondents reported having a usual health care provider.
"About 30% of all respondents and 45% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents indicated they did not have a usual healthcare provider," the researchers wrote. "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."
Based on the study's findings, the researchers recommended several actions policymakers could take to improve provider representation and ensure patients will receive culturally competent care.
"Steps to address the [racial] imbalance [between patients of color and providers] include making medical education more affordable for underrepresented groups, diversifying the healthcare teams serving people of color and those with limited English proficiency, and holding providers accountable for providing culturally effective care to patients in the language they prefer," said Dulce Gonzalez, a research associate at the Urban Institute and the study's lead author.
According to Fierce Healthcare, the Biden administration has recently taken steps to get more providers who represent underserved areas to participate in value-based care programs to help improve overall health equity in the country.
"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, head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
"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," said Jacquelynn Orr, the program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Having a provider who looks like you and shares your experiences builds trust." (King, Fierce Healthcare, 3/24; Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 3/23; Gonzalez et al., Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 3/23)