Patient-Reported Experiences of Discrimination in the US Health Care System

Paige Nong, Minakshi Raj, Melissa Creary, Sharon L.R. Kardia, Jodyn E. Platt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Although considerable evidence exists on the association between negative health outcomes and daily experiences of discrimination, less is known about such experiences in the health care system at the national level. It is critically necessary to measure and address discrimination in the health care system to mitigate harm to patients and as part of the larger ongoing project of responding to health inequities. Objectives: To (1) identify the national prevalence of patient-reported experiences of discrimination in the health care system, the frequency with which they occur, and the main types of discrimination experienced and (2) examine differences in the prevalence of discrimination across demographic groups. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional national survey fielded online in May 2019 used a general population sample from the National Opinion Research Center's AmeriSpeak Panel. Surveys were sent to 3253 US adults aged 21 years or older, including oversamples of African American respondents, Hispanic respondents, and respondents with annual household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. Main Outcomes and Measures: Analyses drew on 3 survey items measuring patient-reported experiences of discrimination, the primary types of discrimination experienced, the frequency with which they occurred, and the demographic and health-related characteristics of the respondents. Weighted bivariable and multivariable logistic regressions were conducted to assess associations between experiences of discrimination and several demographic and health-related characteristics. Results: Of 2137 US adult respondents who completed the survey (66.3% response rate; unweighted 51.0% female; mean [SD] age, 49.6 [16.3] years), 458 (21.4%) reported that they had experienced discrimination in the health care system. After applying weights to generate population-level estimates, most of those who had experienced discrimination (330 [72.0%]) reported experiencing it more than once. Of 458 reporting experiences of discrimination, racial/ethnic discrimination was the most common type (79 [17.3%]), followed by discrimination based on educational or income level (59 [12.9%]), weight (53 [11.6%]), sex (52 [11.4%]), and age (44 [9.6%]). In multivariable analysis, the odds of experiencing discrimination were higher for respondents who identified as female (odds ratio [OR], 1.88; 95% CI, 1.50-2.36) and lower for older respondents (OR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.98-0.99), respondents earning at least $50000 in annual household income (OR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.60-0.95), and those reporting good (OR, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.46-0.75) or excellent (OR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.31-0.56) health compared with poor or fair health. Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this study suggest that experiences of discrimination in the health care system appear more common than previously recognized and deserve considerable attention. These findings contribute to understanding of the scale at which interpersonal discrimination occurs in the US health care system and provide crucial evidence for next steps in assessing the risks and consequences of such discrimination. The findings also point to a need for further analysis of how interpersonal discrimination interacts with structural inequities and social determinants of health to build effective responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2029650
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Patient-Reported Experiences of Discrimination in the US Health Care System'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this