A black woman doctor

A black woman doctor. © michaeljung - Fotolia.com

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Nonwhite physicians provide care to underserved ethnic minority patients more than their white counterparts, according to a new study published today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, and it may be the solution to a worsening problem.

“With the Affordable Care Act, more people are gaining insurance, and looking at the changes in the U.S. population with [an increase in] underserved ethnic minorities and people reporting English as a second language, there are concerns about whether or not there will be enough physicians to take care of those patients,” says Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.

However, if minority physicians are more likely to take care of underserved populations, perhaps one solution is to increase the number of minority physicians, according to Marrast.

“We encourage medical schools to train more minority physicians,” she adds. “This suggestion has been made for decades from other reports. We think that [medical schools] have the obligation to meet the needs of the community.”

Other studies and reports have shown the benefit of ethnic minority patients being cared for by physicians of the same ethnicity. Visits have been shown to be longer and patients rate their satisfaction with care higher. Patients are also more likely to trust and continue with that same physician, which is shown to improve patients’ overall health outcomes.

Yet, Marrast is careful about the message her team’s findings sends: “We’re not advocating for racially-segregated medical care, or putting down what white physicians do for minority patients. But, we worry about patients being racially isolated.”

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