New York Times Blog Hard Cases delves into the unpredictable outcomes of doctors taking care of patients who are exactly like themselves.

Dr. Abigail Zuger explores interpersonal chemistry, gender, and ethnicity to determine what binds and estranges patients and doctors. Furthermore, if this type of connection causes any different outcome in patients’ health.

“Professional training may not remove the interpersonal chemistry that binds us to some and estranges us from others, but it can neutralize these forces somewhat, enough to enable civilized and productive dialogue among all comers. Yet until the day when we deal only in cells, organs and genes and not their human containers, we will, for better or worse, always see ourselves in some patients, our friends and relatives in others, and our patients will likewise instinctively experience doctor as mother or father, buddy or virtual stranger.”

Dr. Zuger portrays two stories of female patients visiting a gynecologist she has referred them to. Patient A is enamored with gynecologist because she understands her feelings and concerns. While Patient B is underwhelmed by the gynecologist. As Patient B and her doctor discuss menstrual cramps, her doctors states “they’re just not all that bad.”

Data collected over a decade concluded that most women preferred female gynecologists because they communicated better with one another. A separate study found patients who saw doctors of the same race generally had longer and friendlier visits.

However, when it comes to health outcomes, results are scattered. One study found that having a doctor of the same race had no correlation with good blood pressure, the important this was whether the patient trusted the doctor. While another study discovered that black patients took their medications a little more assiduously, but the same did not hold true for Asians and Asian doctors.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary


Jeffrey R. Ungvary