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Recent Study Looks At How Fears Of Racial Bias Can Affect Patient Communication With Provider

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Dr. Johanne Eliacin is a research scientist with the Regenstrief Institute and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and led the study.

A recent study finds that situational cues in clinical health situations can influence how minority patients communicate with their mental healthcare provider.

Dr. Johanne Eliacin is a research scientist with the Regenstrief Institute and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and led the study.

"In my work, one of the things that keeps coming up is differences in the ways racial and ethnic monority groups communicate with their mental health providers and how these differences often lead to minority groups not accessing services when they need to," she says.

Eighty-six African-American veterans participated in the study. Eliacin says over a quarter of participants answered “yes” to the question asking if race was a factor in their healthcare­ and how they communicate with their provider­.

She adds even the participants who didn’t answer “yes” to this question described in their interviews ways race could affect their healthcare.

The study follows social identity threat theory to understand how fear of being sterotyped or threatened can affect someone's behaviors and participation in healthcare. 

Eliacin says one thing that surprised her was how many of the participants reported preemptively look for cues in a clinical setting that would make them feel safe.

“Instead of thinking about the healthcare matter that brought them to the visit, they were thinking more about how the provider may see them because of race. It was that salient for them.”

She says fears of discrimination often lead minority groups to not access health care at all, or not remain in treatment when they need to – which leads to worse health outcomes.

The study suggests healthcare providers move toward person-centered care and increased workforce diversity in healthcare settings.

"That means getting to know your patients as individuals, getting to assess what is really essential for their health in terms of the way they see it," Eliacin says. 

She says part of this is including patients in the decison-making in terms of their healthcare. 

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