Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 827–833 | Cite as

Differences in the Patterns of Health Care System Distrust Between Blacks and Whites

  • Katrina Armstrong
  • Suzanne McMurphy
  • Lorraine T. Dean
  • Ellyn Micco
  • Mary Putt
  • Chanita Hughes Halbert
  • J. Sanford Schwartz
  • Pamela Sankar
  • Reed E. Pyeritz
  • Barbara Bernhardt
  • Judy A. Shea
Populations at Risk



Although health care-related distrust may contribute to racial disparities in health and health care in the US, current evidence about racial differences in distrust is often conflicting, largely limited to measures of physician trust, and rarely linked to multidimensional trust or distrust.


To test the hypothesis that racial differences in health care system distrust are more closely linked to values distrust than to competence distrust.


Cross-sectional telephone survey.


Two hundred fifty-five individuals (144 black, 92 white) who had been treated in primary care practices or the emergency department of a large, urban Mid-Atlantic health system.

Primary measures

Race, scores on the overall health care system distrust scale and on the 2 distrust subscales, values distrust and competence distrust.


In univariate analysis, overall health care system distrust scores were slightly higher among blacks than whites (25.8 vs 24.1, p = .05); however, this difference was driven by racial differences in values distrust scores (15.4 vs 13.8, p = .003) rather than in competence distrust scores (10.4 vs 10.3, p = .85). After adjustment for socioeconomic status, health/psychological status, and health care access, individuals in the top quartile of values distrust were significantly more likely to be black (odds ratio = 2.60, 95% confidence interval = 1.03–6.58), but there was no significant association between race and competence distrust.


Racial differences in health care system distrust are complex with far greater differences seen in the domain of values distrust than in competence distrust. This framework may be useful for explaining the mixed results of studies of race and health care-related distrust to date, for the design of future studies exploring the causes of racial disparities in health and health care, and for the development and testing of novel strategies for reducing these disparities.


race values distrust competence distrust health care system distrust 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katrina Armstrong
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Suzanne McMurphy
    • 1
  • Lorraine T. Dean
    • 1
  • Ellyn Micco
    • 1
  • Mary Putt
    • 3
    • 4
  • Chanita Hughes Halbert
    • 3
    • 5
  • J. Sanford Schwartz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 6
  • Pamela Sankar
    • 2
    • 7
  • Reed E. Pyeritz
    • 1
  • Barbara Bernhardt
    • 1
  • Judy A. Shea
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medicine, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Leonard Davis Institute of Health EconomicsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Abramson Cancer Center, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  6. 6.Department of Health Care Management, Wharton SchoolUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  7. 7.Department of Bioethics, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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