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Keywords:

  • race;
  • ethnicity;
  • relationships;
  • patient-physician communication;
  • disparities

There is increasing evidence that racial and ethnic minority patients receive lower quality interpersonal care than white patients. Therapeutic relationships constitute the interpersonal milieu in which patients are diagnosed, given treatment recommendations, and referred for tests, procedures, or care by consultants in the health care system. This paper provides a review and perspective on the literature that explores the role of relationships and social interactions across racial and ethnic differences in health care. First, we examine the social and historical context for examining differences in interpersonal treatment in health care along racial and ethnic lines. Second, we discuss selected studies that examine how race and ethnicity influence clinician-patient relationships. While less is known about how race and ethnicity influence clinician-community, clinician-clinician, and clinician-self relationships, we briefly examine the potential roles of these relationships in overcoming disparities in health care. Finally, we suggest directions for future research on racial and ethnic health care disparities that uses a relationship-centered paradigm.