Racial/ethnic disparities in patient experience with communication in hospitals

Junya Zhu, Saul N. Weingart, Grant A. Ritter, Christopher P. Tompkins, Deborah W. Garnick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: An important aspect of medical care is clear and effective communication, which can be particularly challenging for individuals based on race/ethnicity. Quality of communication is measured systematically in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, and analyzed frequently such as in the National Healthcare Disparities Report. Caution is needed to discern differences in communication quality from racial/ethnic differences in perceptions about concepts or expectations about their fulfillment. Objectives: To examine assumptions about the degree of commonality across racial/ethnic groups in their perceptions and expectations, and to investigate the validity of conclusions regarding racial/ethnic differences in communication quality. Methods: We used 2007 HCAHPS data from the National CAHPS Benchmarking Database to construct racial/ethnic samples that controlled for other patient characteristics (828 per group). Using multiple-groups confirmatory factor analyses, we tested whether the factor structure and model parameters (ie, factor loadings, intercepts) differed across groups. Results: We identified support for basic tests of equivalence across 7 racial/ethnic groups in terms of equivalent factor structure and loadings. Even stronger support was found for Communication with Doctors and Nurses. However, potentially important nonequivalence was found for Communication about Medicines, including instances of statistically significant differences between non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders. Conclusions: Our results provide strongest support for racial/ethnic comparisons on Communication with Nurses and Doctors, and reason to caution against comparisons on Communication about Medicines due to significant differences in model parameters across groups; that is, a lack of invariance in the intercept.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-454
Number of pages9
JournalMedical care
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 27 2015


  • communication
  • measurement invariance
  • patient experience
  • race/ethnicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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