Racial disparities in clinician responses to patient emotions

Jenny Park, Mary Catherine Beach, Dingfen Han, Richard D. Moore, P. Todd Korthuis, Somnath Saha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Objective: In a previous study of patients newly enrolled in HIV care, we observed that clinicians were less likely to address emotional issues expressed by African-American patients compared to whites. We sought to verify and expand these findings in a larger group of patients established in HIV care. Methods: We used VR-CoDES to analyze transcripts from 342 audio-recorded medical visits in the United States. We used random intercept multilevel logistic regression to assess associations between patient and clinician characteristics and patterns of emotional talk. Results: African-American patients were less likely than others to spontaneously express emotions (OR 0.50; 95 % CI 0.29−0.85). Clinicians, who were predominantly white, were more likely to respond to emotional expressions by African-American patients explicitly (OR 1.56; 95 % CI 1.11–2.20) but less likely to offer neutral/passive responses that provide space for emotional conversation (OR 0.56; 95 % CI 0.37−0.84) and more likely to block discussion of the emotional issue (OR 2.20; 95 % CI 1.05–4.63). Emotional talk did not vary by patient age or gender. Conclusion: These results confirm our prior findings, demonstrating less open emotional communication between African-American patients and their providers. Practice Implications: Addressing racial differences in communicating about emotions may reduce disparities in patient-clinician relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1736-1744
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Emotion
  • HIV
  • Health disparities
  • Patient-Provider communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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