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Doctor-Patient Talk May Help Blacks With Hypertension

Lack of communication during office visits may affect outcomes, study finds

THURSDAY, Sept. 10, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Black patients with high blood pressure often seem to struggle to communicate with their doctors, potentially leading to worse disease outcomes, a North Carolina study suggests.

"It seems that in general, blacks talk less overall to their physicians than white patients," study author Dr. Crystal Wiley Cene, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, said in a university news release. "As a result, communication about specific topics occurs less often."

Cene noted that there may be several reasons for the poor communication. Black patients might not trust their physicians or somehow feel disconnected from them. Physicians, perhaps reacting to their quiet patients, may feel less inclined to talk to them.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from 226 high blood pressure patients and 39 physicians at 15 primary-care practices in Baltimore. Specifically, they listened to audio recordings of patients' visits to their doctors. The study authors noted the length of the visits, the number of medically focused statements made and the overall banter between doctors and patients.

The researchers found that black patients experienced shorter office visits and had less biomedical and psychosocial exchange with their doctors than white patients.

"We believe there also may be an 'unspoken subtext' that occurs in visits between patients and doctors that influences the communication that occurs during the visit," Cene stated in the news release. "It's possible that black patients are more likely to pick up on that 'unspoken subtext' and it alters their communication with their doctor."

In the United States, one-third of the adult population has high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Blacks are especially susceptible. Known as the silent killer, uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney damage.

The study urged improved patient-doctor communication as a way to reduce racial disparities in the care of patients with high blood pressure.

More information

The American Heart Association has more on high blood pressure.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, news release, Sept. 2, 2009
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