Choose a Doctor by Affinity Group

January W. Payne, Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2006

WASHINGTON—Several Web sites can help consumers find doctors and other health care providers with specified characteristics, including race, religion and sensitivity to sexual orientation.

The sites—which list physicians who are African American, Christian or “gay- or lesbian-friendly”—are putting a new spin on affinity-group marketing, a tactic usually associated with insurance or real estate sales.

“We feel that, with so many pressing medical issues for blacks, that we need to make sure that our medical issues are attended to,” said Salli Purnell, marketing director for BlackDoctorFinder.com, a Web site based in Norfolk.

“If this can encourage more people to first go to the doctor [and] have the tests that they need done, then we’ve done something good,” Purnell said. Seeing black doctors, she said, will make some people “feel more comfortable.”

Some site operators said they created their services after studies showed that some patients relate better to physicians of the same race. A 2003 Johns Hopkins study found that “patient ratings of care and of doctors’ efforts to get the patient to participate in decisions were higher when both the doctor and patient were African American or both were white than when the doctor and patient had different backgrounds,” according to a summary of the study posted on the Web site of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Other studies have found that “African American patients who see African American doctors report more involvement in medical decisions, higher trust and higher satisfaction with their doctors than African American patients whose doctors are not African American,” according to the summary. Such involvement is considered important because black Americans still receive poorer health care overall than white Americans, particularly in the areas of heart disease and stroke, despite efforts to reduce discrepancies.

Sites run by groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations and the National Medical Association—an organization of black doctors—allow patients to search their listings for free. Providers who belong to these groups can also post a listing.

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Findablackdoctor.com, for instance, carries this disclaimer: “Users are warned to check and verify the credentials of any alleged health care provider before consenting to any and all courses of treatment. Materials found on the site are for reference purposes only and are not recommended or endorsed by the owners of findablackdoctor.com.” More doctors, meanwhile, are taking note of the sites. Jacques Conaway, medical director of the sleep centers at Franklin Square Hospital Center and Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, explained his registration two months ago on findablackdoctor.com this way: “I realize that an increasing number of my patients are Internet-savvy, and whenever I have the opportunity, I like to leave a fingerprint out there” online, he said. “I certainly have a population of patients that really prefer having an African American physician. . . I think that sitting down with someone who has shared cultural experiences makes the entire history and physical process easier and smoother for the patient.”

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