How Greater Diversity in the Physician Workforce Would Reduce Racial Health Disparities

A new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that greater racial diversity among primary care physicians could reduce cardiovascular mortality among Black men by up to 19 percent. The study was led by Marcella Allen, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University and a core faculty member at the Center for Health Policy/Primary Care and Outcomes Research.

After conducting a randomized clinical trial among 1,300 Black men in Oakland, the researchers found that the men sought more preventive services after they were randomly seen by Black doctors for a free health-care screening compared to non-Black doctors.

“We found that, once African-American men were at the clinic, even though all services were free, those assigned to a Black doctor took up more services,” said Dr. Alsan.

The study found that the Black men were 29 percent more likely to talk with Black doctors about other health problems and seeking more invasive screenings that likely required more trust in the person providing the service. They found subjects assigned to Black doctors increased their uptake of diabetes and cholesterol screenings by 47 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

The researchers calculated that Black doctors could reduce cardiovascular mortality by 16 deaths per 100,000 per year, accounting for 19 percent of the Black-White gap in cardiovascular-related deaths.

The full study, “Does Diversity Matter for Health? Experimental Evidence From Oakland,” was co-authored by Owen Garrick of Bridge Clinical Research, and Grant C. Graziani, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. It may be downloaded here.

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