The Presence of Black Physicians in a County Boosts Black Life Expectancy

A new study from the Association of American Medical Colleges finds that African Americans in counties with a significant number of Black physicians have better health outcomes than African Americans in counties where Black physicians are scarce.

Researchers examined whether, on average, counties with increased Black representation of primary-care physicians (PCP) exhibited improved survival outcomes. They identified counties where at least one Black primary-care physician operated  during one or more time points (2009, 2014, and 2019). Black PCPs operated in 1,198 counties in 2009, 1,260 counties in 2014, and 1308 counties in 2019 — less than half of all 3,142 Census-defined US counties as of 2014.

Results indicated that greater Black workforce representation was associated with higher life expectancy and was inversely associated with all-cause Black mortality and mortality rate disparities between Black and White individuals. In adjusted mixed-effects growth models, a 10 percent increase in Black PCP representation was associated with a higher life expectancy of 30.61 days.

The authors conclude that “greater Black PCP workforce representation is associated with better population health measures for Black individuals, although there was a dearth of U.S. counties with at least one Black PCP during each study time point. Investments to build a more representative PCP workforce nationally may be important for improving population health.”

The full study, “Black Representation in the Primary Care Physician Workforce and Its Association With Population Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the US,” was published on the JAMA Open Network. It is available here.

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