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Keywords:

  • communication;
  • racial disparities;
  • race;
  • health care utilization

African Americans and Latinos use services that require a doctor's order at lower rates than do whites. Racial bias and patient preferences contribute to disparities, but their effects appear small. Communication during the medical interaction plays a central role in decision making about subsequent interventions and health behaviors. Research has shown that doctors have poorer communication with minority patients than with others, but problems in doctor-patient communication have received little attention as a potential cause, a remediable one, of health disparities. We evaluate the evidence that poor communication is a cause of disparities and propose some remedies drawn from the communication sciences.