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Black Doctors “Better” with Black Patients

By on January 20, 2012

If you have a black doctor, chances are he or she is pretty good with bedside manner. In fact, Black physicians outperform their white colleagues in using positive  non-verbal communication in interactions with patients, U.S. researchers  say.

From 1998 to 2000, Irena Stepanikova, an assistant sociology professor at the University of  South Carolina, analyzed videotaped medical visits from  another study involving 30 primary care physicians and 209 patients age 65 and  older. The results were mixed when accounting for the race of patients.

“African-American physicians face many professional challenges, including  discrimination, bias from employers and colleagues and white patients who question their authority,” Stepanikova said in a statement. “The conflicted  pattern of communication evident in this study may reflect these  experiences.”

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found black  physicians’ communication with black patients was overwhelmingly positive, but  their communication with white patients yielded a mix of positive and negative  non-verbal behaviors.

“Black physicians used high degrees of smile, touch and open body position  with black patients,” Stepanikova said. “With white patients they had a high use  of smile and gaze, but a low use of open body position. This conflicted pattern  of communication may suggest a lack of social ease.”

Non-verbal behavior is especially interesting in the context of studies of  race since it operates to a large degree non-consciously, and therefore it often  reveals feelings and attitudes that people cannot or do not want to express in  words, Stepanikova said.


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