Non-white physicians provide more care to underserved populations, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Lyndonna M. Marrast, M.D., from Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues analyzed data from 7,070 adults participating in the 2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, who identified an individual medical provider (not a facility) as their usual source of care. The likelihood of having a non-white physician was assessed for underserved patients. Self-reported health status and health care use were compared for patients of minority and non-Hispanic white physicians.

The researchers found that non-white physicians cared for more than half of minority and non-English-speaking patients (53.5 and 70.4 percent, respectively). The likelihood of seeing non-white physicians versus white physicians was significantly increased for patients from underserved groups, excluding uninsured patients.

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Higher proportions of patients of black physicians were obese, had self-reported fair or poor health, and used the emergency department. Several health measures were better for patients of Asian and Hispanic physicians than for patients of white physicians, but worse self-reported fair or poor health was observed.

“It is clear that the preferences of physicians in choosing practice settings and of patients in choosing physicians combine to create an outsized role for minority physicians caring for the disadvantaged,” the authors conclude.