May 20, 2022

Cool Rabbits

Healthcare Enthusiast

How a Dearth of Black Doctors Affects Healthcare

Table of Contents

Story Highlights

  • 53% say it is hard to find a local doctor of their racial background
  • Those who say it is easy to give higher patient experience ratings
  • Those who say it is hard are more likely to report negative experiences

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Black Americans who say it is hard to find a doctor of their own race or ethnicity in their area are much more likely than those who say it is easy to report having had negative interactions with medical providers in the past three years.

The Gallup Center on Black Voices has found that most Black adults say it is hard to find a doctor of their own race. The finding underscores the relevance of research showing that Black patients are more satisfied with their care and, in some cases, receive demonstrably better care when treated by a Black doctor than a doctor of another race.

Among those who say it is hard to find a Black doctor, nearly half say that in the past three years, a doctor has assumed something about them without asking. These negative interactions are less common among those who say it is easy to find a Black doctor, with about one in four reporting they have had this problem.

Black Adults’ Reports of Negative Healthcare Experiences, by Difficulty in Finding a Doctor of Their Race
















Very or somewhat easy Very or somewhat difficult
% Yes % Yes
Assumed something about you without asking 24 45
Didn’t listen carefully to you 20 40
Didn’t believe you were telling the truth 15 30
Refused to order a test or treatment you thought you needed 9 21
Suggested you were personally to blame for a health problem 11 23
Talked down to you or didn’t treat you with respect 17 28
Refused to prescribe pain medication you thought you needed 10 18
June 17-July 9, 2021
Gallup


The study also finds Black adults who report having difficulty finding a Black doctor are about twice as likely as those who say it is easy to say that a doctor didn’t listen carefully to them or didn’t believe they were telling the truth.

Those who say it is hard to find a Black doctor are more than twice as likely as their counterparts to report that a doctor refused to order a test or treatment they thought they needed or suggested that they were personally to blame for a health problem.

Black adults who say it is hard to find a local doctor of their race were also more likely to report that a doctor talked down to them or refused to prescribe pain medication they thought they needed.

While the study did not measure the actual race of respondents’ doctors, a higher proportion of those who say finding a Black doctor is easy will likely have at least one Black doctor than those who say finding them is hard. At a minimum, the measure indicates whether respondents believe they have that choice, should the race of their doctor be important to them.

Like Black Americans, White and Hispanic adults are also more likely to report negative experiences in healthcare settings when they also report that it is hard to find a local doctor of their race. However, most White and Hispanic adults report some degree of ease in locating a doctor of their race, whereas most Black adults report that it is hard.

Bottom Line

Most Black Americans (53%) say it is hard to find a doctor of their own race or ethnicity in the area in which they live. Those living in communities where Black doctors are difficult to obtain are more likely to report having bad experiences with their provider in a healthcare setting.

Negative healthcare experiences can be discouraging — or even traumatizing — for patients and can result in avoiding medical care until an emergency arises, potentially undermining their wellbeing.

As the country enters year three of a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Black Americans, one silver lining is that U.S. medical schools are reporting a sharp increase in the number of Black students.

Doctors do not need to share the same racial background as their patients in order to deliver quality care, however, and could work to increase their cultural competence and communication skills, which has been found to be a barrier to patient satisfaction. This could create more positive experiences for patients — and avoid negative ones.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

Register for our upcoming webinar series on Black Health & Wellbeing.