The Influence of Health Care Professional Characteristics on Pain Management Decisions

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Abstract

Objective.

Evidence suggests that patient characteristics such as sex, race, and age influence the pain management decisions of health care providers. Although this signifies that patient demographics may be important determinants of health care decisions, pain-related care also may be impacted by the personal characteristics of the health care practitioner. However, the extent to which health care provider characteristics affect pain management decisions is unclear, underscoring the need for further research in this area.

Methods.

A total of 154 health care providers (77 physicians, 77 dentists) viewed video vignettes of virtual human (VH) patients varying in sex, race, and age. Practitioners provided computerized ratings of VH patients' pain intensity and unpleasantness, and also reported their willingness to prescribe non-opioid and opioid analgesics for each patient. Practitioner sex, race, age, and duration of professional experience were included as predictors to determine their impact on pain management decisions.

Results.

When assessing and treating pain, practitioner sex, race, age, and duration of experience were all significantly associated with pain management decisions. Further, the role of these characteristics differed across VH patient sex, race, and age.

Conclusions.

These findings suggest that pain assessment and treatment decisions may be impacted by the health care providers' demographic characteristics, effects which may contribute to pain management disparities. Future research is warranted to determine whether findings replicate in other health care disciplines and medical conditions, and identify other practitioner characteristics (e.g., culture) that may affect pain management decisions.

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