NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Little Evidence of Racial Prejudice in Medicine

April 4, 2002

Media coverage of a recent Institute of Medicine report claimed that it found evidence that there is bigotry and prejudice in the medical profession that limits health care for minorities.

This study was actually a review of evidence from other studies that indicated there were racial differences in the rates at which various procedures are performed. However, the data necessary to tell why those differences existed were not collected, because those studies were performed for other purposes (such as billing by insurance companies).

  • For example, a 1999 study of Medicare patients in the New England Journal of Medicine found that of patients with operable lung cancer, 77 percent of white patients underwent surgery compared to 64 percent of black patients.
  • But the study did not determine whether or not blacks refused surgery more often than whites, or if they had higher rates of other conditions (e.g., diabetes or a heart condition) that would have complicated surgery.
  • Nor did it even determine whether fewer black patients were married -- although marital status appears to affect surgical outcomes.

Another study reviewed in the report concerned doctors' attitudes toward patients of different races, but did not compare the care that black patients receive from white doctors compared to black doctors. In one rare study, for example, Yale University cardiologists found that black patients underwent heart catheterization at the same rate regardless of the race of their doctor.

Because of the lack of evidence of cases in which care was denied, media hype on Institute of Medicine's report is just that -- hype.

Source: Sally Satel (American Enterprise Institute), "Racist Doctors? Don't Believe the Media Hype," Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2002.


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