'What's in a face?' The role of doctor ethnicity, age and gender in the formation of patients' judgements: an experimental study.

Patient education and counseling

PubMedID: 16442455

Shah R, Ogden J. 'What's in a face?' The role of doctor ethnicity, age and gender in the formation of patients' judgements: an experimental study. Patient Educ Couns. 2006;60(2):136-41.
BACKGROUND
Research has shown that doctor's make judgements about patients on the basis of their demographic characteristics. Little is known about how patients judge their doctors.

AIM
The present study aimed to explore the impact of a doctor's ethnicity, age and gender on patients' judgements in the setting of a general practice consultation.

METHODS
The study involved an experimental factorial design using vignettes with patients receiving one of eight photos of a doctor who varied in terms of ethnic group (Asian versus White), age (older versus younger) and gender (male versus female). Six general practices in South West London took part and 309 patients (response rate = 77%) rated the doctor in terms of the expected behaviour of the doctor, the expected behaviour of the patient and the patient ease with the doctor.

RESULTS
The results showed that in terms of the impact of ethnic group, the Asian doctor and White doctor received comparable ratings for most questions; however, the Asian doctor was rated as being more likely to explore emotional aspects of health than the White doctor. Differences for age and gender were more profound. In particular, both the younger doctor and the female doctor were judged to have a better personal manner, better technical skills, better explanation skills, to be more likely to explore emotional aspects of health and empower the patient. Patients also stated that they were more likely to have faith in their diagnoses, advice and to comply with treatment and preferred both the younger and female doctors for a physical examination. In addition, younger doctors were deemed to be more likely to refer a patient to see a hospital specialist and female doctors were seen to be more likely to suggest complementary therapy.

CONCLUSION
A doctor's age and gender have a stronger impact on a patient's judgements than their ethnicity.