Black Americans are 1.6 times more likely to believe medical information presented by a Black physician or patient as compared with information presented by a White speaker, a new study shows. This finding, the authors say, highlights the importance of increasing racial diversity among healthcare providers to improve healthcare discussions with minority populations.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the new investigation involved more than 2,900 men and women. It showed that while Black participants were more trusting of videos about prostate cancer that featured a Black presenter, race made no difference for their White counterparts.

“Our findings demonstrate the need to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce,” said study lead author and urologist Stacy Loeb, MD. Dr. Loeb is a professor in the Departments of Urology and Population Health at NYU Langone Health.

The investigation also revealed that regardless of their race, surveyed participants were more trusting of a physician discussing prostate cancer than of a patient explaining the same information.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer among American men, killing over 30,000 each year. Black men are more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared with other racial groups, experts note.

“Our study emphasizes the responsibility of healthcare providers to play an active role in public communication, particularly in an environment flooded with misinformation and confusion,” said study co-investigator Joseph E. Ravenell, MD. “Clearly, people really do trust what doctors have to say,” added Dr. Ravenell, an associate professor in the Departments of Population Health and Medicine at NYU Langone.

An earlier study by the same research team revealed that only a small percentage of online content about prostate cancer features Black or Hispanic men. The new investigation, published online July 19 in JAMA Network Open, was designed to demonstrate the direct impact of this underrepresentation on audiences, says Dr. Ravenell, who also serves as the associate dean for diversity affairs and inclusion at NYU Langone.

For the investigation, researchers randomly assigned U.S. adults ages 40 and older to watch one of eight videos about prostate cancer, with half of them about cancer screening and the other half about clinical trials. Notably, clips from each category shared the same script. The presenter of each video was either a White or Black doctor or a White or Black patient.

After watching the clips, the participants were asked to rate how strongly they trusted the information presented in the video using the following scale: “no trust at all,” “a little,” “somewhat,” or “very much.” They also answered questions about their background, including age and race.

Among the other findings, the responses revealed that participants were more trusting of videos about prostate cancer screening than videos about clinical trials. According to the researchers, this result could reflect the deep-seated distrust of clinical research that in part stems from a history of unethical practices before the onset of strict protections for human research participants since the 1950s. It may also reflect the fact that many Americans generally have a lower understanding about clinical trials when compared with other health topics.

“These results underline the need to ensure that all patients, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, have knowledge of clinical trials and can participate if they are eligible,” said study senior author Aisha Langford, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health.

Dr. Langford cautions that since their investigation only focused on videos about prostate cancer, it remains unclear whether the findings about public trust in medical information extend to other health topics, such as misinformation about vaccines.

She adds that the study team next plans to lead focus groups with Black patients with prostate cancer to discuss their experiences with online sources of medical information and their suggestions for improving the quality, accessibility, and impact of those resources.

Funding for the study was provided by a U.S. Department of Defense Health Disparity Research Award.

In addition to Dr. Loeb, Dr. Ravenell, and Dr. Langford, other NYU study investigators involved in the study were Katherine Siu, MS; Tatiana Sanchez Nolasco, MPH; and Nataliya Byrne, BA. Other study investigators included Scarlett Gomez, MPH, PhD, Hala Borno, MD, and Samuel L. Washington III, MD, MAS, at the University of California, San Francisco; Godfrey Wilson, Rob Crocker, and Robert Sherman, as members of the study stakeholder advisory board in New York City; and Derek Griffith, PhD, at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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