April 3, 2024

Doctors Less Likely To Respond To Black Patients On Their Patient Portals, A New Study Exposes

Black Patients

A recent study has revealed that Black patients may be less likely than their white counterparts to receive responses from doctors to their online queries.

The study in JAMA Network Open is based on examining medical advice request messages sent in 2021 to Boston Medical Center, a major safety-net provider. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with substantial growth in patient portal messaging, the researchers scrutinized over 39,000 messages from primary care patients during this time.

Black Patients Less Likely To Get A Response

Of the patients included in the sample, 2006 were Asian, 21600 were Black, 7185 were Hispanic, and 8252 were white.

While response rates were broadly similar across different provider types (including registered nurses and physicians in training), notable disparities emerged in responses from attending physicians and the senior doctors overseeing patient care.

Though comprising only 21.1% of the study sample, white patients received a disproportionate 46.3% of responses from attending physicians. 

However, Black patients were almost four percentage points less likely to get a response from these physicians. 

The trends were similar, but to a lesser degree, for Hispanic and Asian patients.

Implicit bias?

Such disparities suggest that healthcare providers might unconsciously prioritize messages from Black patients lower when sorting patient queries. 

These findings raise concerns about implicit biases in healthcare and the need for more equitable resource allocation in patient communication. 

The researchers urge closer examination of these disparities, their causes, and how they can be addressed, especially as patient portals become a central channel for patient-care team interaction.

It states that the central meaning behind message triaging is that physician time is valuable and should be allocated judiciously.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.