Analysis of the Patient-Physician Relationship, Race, and Pain Control and Physical Function among Adults with Chronic Low Back Pain

John C. Licciardone, Sweta Ganta, Leah Goehring, Kendall Wallace, Ryan Pu

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Abstract

Importance: Racial and ethnic disparities in pain outcomes are widely reported in the United States. However, the impact of the patient-physician relationship on such outcomes remains unclear. Objective: To determine whether the patient-physician relationship mediates the association of race with pain outcomes. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study uses data from the Pain Registry for Epidemiological, Clinical, and Interventional Studies and Innovation, collected from April 2016 to December 2021. All registry enrollees who identified as Black or White with chronic low back pain who had a regular physician who provided pain care were included. Data were analyzed during December 2021. Exposures: Participant-reported aspects of their patient-physician relationship, including physician communication, physician empathy, and satisfaction with physician encounters. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcomes included low back pain intensity, measured with a numerical rating scale and physical function, measured with the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire. Mediator variables were derived from the Communication Behavior Questionnaire, Consultation and Relational Empathy measure, and Patient Satisfaction Questionnaire. Results: Among 1177 participants, the mean (SD) age was 53.5 (13.1) years, and there were 876 (74.4%) women. A total of 217 participants (18.4%) were Black, and 960 participants (81.6%) were White. The only difference between Black and White participants in the patient-physician relationship involved effective and open physician communication, which favored Black participants (mean communication score, 72.1 [95% CI, 68.8-75.4] vs 67.9 [95% CI, 66.2-69.6]; P =.03). Black participants, compared with White participants reported worse outcomes for pain intensity (mean pain score, 7.1 [95% CI, 6.8-7.3] vs 5.8 [95% CI, 5.7-6.0]; P <.001) and back-related disability (mean disability score, 15.8 [95% CI, 15.1-16.6] vs 14.1 [95% CI, 13.8-14.5]; P <.001). In mediation analyses that controlled for potential confounders using disease risk scores, virtually none of the associations of race with each outcome was mediated by the individual or combined factors of physician communication, physician empathy, and patient satisfaction. Similarly, no mediation was observed in sensitivity analyses that included only participants with both chronic low back pain and the same treating physician for more than 5 years. Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that factors other than the patient-physician relationship were important to pain disparities experienced by Black participants. Additional research on systemic factors, such as access to high-quality medical care, may be helpful in identifying more promising approaches to mitigating racial pain disparities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2216270
JournalJAMA Network Open
Volume5
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 9 Jun 2022

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