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Communication With Doctors Affects Blacks' Cancer Care
by: Robert Preidt

Black American cancer patients are less likely to question their doctors, they receive less medical information, and they aren't as actively involved in their medical care compared to white patients.

All this can lead to less-informed medical decisions, which can have a negative impact on medical care for black cancer patients and may account for racial differences in outcomes among cancer patients, says a study in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

Researchers reviewed, transcribed, and analyzed audiotapes from 137 doctor-patient consultations. The patients had lung cancer or suspicious lung lesions. The research team was led by Dr. Howard S. Gordon of the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The researchers found that the degree of patient engagement with the doctor had an effect on the amount of information provided by the doctor. The study concluded that race did not have an effect, even though black patients received less information.

There were no differences in the amount of information when the information was initiated by the doctor. However, there were differences in the amount of information provided by doctors when prompted by the patient. Blacks were less likely than whites to ask questions or raise concerns and also less likely to bring a friend or family member to the appointment.

However, the study found that any disparity in doctor-provided information vanished when doctors and patients were of the same race.

"While not directly negating the possibility that racial disparities in care are due to doctor bias or patient preferences, (these findings) suggest that disparities in medical care are related in part to the communicative dynamics of the encounter, particularly the degree to which patients are actively involved," the study authors wrote.

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