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Abstract

Objective

To understand racial disparities in the use of total joint replacement, we examined whether there were racial differences in patient-provider communication about treatment of chronic knee and hip osteoarthritis in a sample of African American and white patients referred to Veterans Affairs orthopedic clinics.

Methods

Audio recorded visits between patients and orthopedic surgeons were coded using the Roter Interaction Analysis System and the Informed Decision-Making model. Racial differences in communication outcomes were assessed using linear regression models adjusted for study design, patient characteristics, and clustering by provider.

Results

The sample (n = 402) included 296 white and 106 African American patients. Most patients were men (95%) and ages 50–64 years (68%). Almost half (41%) reported an income <$20,000. African American patients were younger and reported lower incomes than white patients. Visits with African American patients contained less discussion of biomedical topics (β = −9.14; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] −16.73, −1.54) and more rapport-building statements (β = 7.84; 95% CI 1.85, 13.82) than visits with white patients. However, no racial differences were observed with regard to length of visit, overall amount of dialogue, discussion of psychosocial issues, patient activation/engagement statements, physician verbal dominance, display of positive affect by patients or providers, or discussion related to informed decision making.

Conclusion

In this sample, communication between orthopedic surgeons and patients regarding the management of chronic knee and hip osteoarthritis did not, for the most part, vary by patient race. These findings diminish the potential role of communication in Veterans Affairs orthopedic settings as an explanation for well-documented racial disparities in the use of total joint replacement.