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Intergroup anxiety in pain care: impact on treatment recommendations made by white providers for black patients.

Grant AD, Miller MM, Hollingshead NA, Anastas TM, Hirsh AT. Intergroup anxiety in pain care: impact on treatment recommendations made by white providers for black patients. Pain. 2020 Jun 1; 161(6):1264-1269.

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Race disparities in pain care are well-documented. Given that most black patients are treated by white providers, patient-provider racial discordance is one hypothesized contributor to these disparities. Research and theory suggest that providers' trait-level intergroup anxiety impacts their state-level comfort while treating patients, which, in turn, impacts their pain treatment decisions. To test these hypothesized relationships, we conducted a planned secondary analysis of data from a randomized controlled trial of a perspective-taking intervention to reduce pain treatment disparities. Mediation analyses were conducted on treatment decision data from white providers for black virtual patients with chronic pain. Results indicated that white providers with higher trait-level intergroup anxiety reported lower state-level comfort treating black patients and were thereby more likely to recommend opioid (indirect effect = 0.76, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.21-1.51) and pain specialty (indirect effect = 0.91, 95% CI: 0.26-1.78) treatments and less likely to recommend nonopioid analgesics (indirect effect = -0.45, 95% CI: -0.94 to -0.12). Neither trait-level intergroup anxiety nor state-level comfort significantly influenced provider decisions for physical therapy. This study provides important new information about intrapersonal and interpersonal contributors to race disparities in chronic pain care. These findings suggest that intergroup anxiety and the resulting situational discomfort encroach on the clinical decision-making process by influencing white providers' decisions about which pain treatments to recommend to black patients. Should these findings be replicated in future studies, they would support interventions to help providers become more aware of their trait-level intergroup anxiety and manage their state-level reactions to patients who are racially/ethnically different from themselves.

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