Preliminary Health Insurer Survey Results Indicate Some Patients Want To Know Physician’s Race When Selecting Provider
According to preliminary results of an automated phone survey by Highmark, some health plan members would like the race of physicians included in the insurer's physician directory, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports. So far, the insurer has contacted about 3,500 plan members and aims to reach up to 100,000. Nearly 30% of respondents thus far would like the race of providers included in the directory.
Highmark is conducting the survey because national studies show minorities receive unequal quality of care compared with whites, Michael Weinstein, a spokesperson for the company, said. In addition, the National Committee for Quality Assurance ranks health plans in part on how well they address disparities, he said. Weinstein said that Highmark has not yet made any changes to its directory.
Two other insurers in the state -- Aetna and UPMC Health Plan -- do not include race in provider directories.
According to Som Saha, an associate professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University, one in five minority patients feels more comfortable being treated by a minority physician. "Although we would like to think we live in a color-blind society, we don't. Race does matter. ... And some people from minority backgrounds just feel more comfortable with doctors who share those backgrounds," Saha said.
Bob Arnold, a University of Pittsburgh professor of medicine, said, "The thing that makes me feel a little funny about it is how far you could take it ... you might want to know if a doctor is a Democrat or Republican, or your doctor's religion. I think that would make us feel less comfortable." Douglas Clough, president of the Allegheny County Medical Society and an internal medicine physician, said race should not be considered when choosing a physician. "It should be qualifications, expertise and knowledge," he said.
Stephen Thomas, director of the Pittsburgh University's Center for Minority Health, said the answer to addressing racial health disparities is not "simply matching race or ethnicity-matching, ... that's not going to work because there are simply not enough minority providers to serve all the minority patients." Thomas added, "We shouldn't let people believe that just because you aren't the race or ethnicity of your patient, you can't serve them" (Heinrichs, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 3/21).