Having even one Black doctor within a county resulted in a higher life expectancy among Black patients, according to a study published on JAMA Network Open.
The authors of the longitudinal cohort study wanted to determine whether there is an association between the number of Black county-level primary care physicians and the number of mortality-related outcomes.
And they did, in fact, find there was an association.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Association of American Medical Colleges looked at over 3,700 counties across the U.S. in 2009, 2014 and 2019. Then, they narrowed those numbers down to a combined sample of 1,618 U.S. counties, based on whether at least one Black primary care physician operated within a county during one or more of those three years. The study did not consider counties where there were no Black physicians.
The data showed that counties with more Black physicians resulted in higher life expectancy for Black patients, while Black mortality rates and mortality rate disparities between Black and White patients increased with fewer Black physicians within a county. In addition, patients had an increase in life expectancy of 30.61 days in association with a 10% increase in Black physician representation, when considering an adjusted mixed-effects growth model.
While the study did not show a cause-and-effect relationship, the findings underscore the racial health disparities across America and highlight the systemic issue of minorities being underrepresented in the health care field. Authors said the study shows the "need to expand the structural diversity of the health workforce."
Monica Peek is one of the authors, as well as a primary care physician and health equity researcher at UChicago Medicine. She wrote an article on the findings.
"This study has brought to light the importance of Black PCP representation to public health outcomes among Black populations across the U.S.," she wrote. "Increasing this representation must become a multifaceted national strategy to improve health and increase equity among Black populations in the U.S."
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