Investigating the influence of African American and African Caribbean race on primary care doctors' decision making about depression

A. Adams*, L. Vail, C.D. Buckingham, J. Kidd, S. Weich, D. Roter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores differences in how primary care doctors process the clinical presentation of depression by African American and African-Caribbean patients compared with white patients in the US and the UK. The aim is to gain a better understanding of possible pathways by which racial disparities arise in depression care. One hundred and eight doctors described their thought processes after viewing video recorded simulated patients presenting with identical symptoms strongly suggestive of depression. These descriptions were analysed using the CliniClass system, which captures information about micro-components of clinical decision making and permits a systematic, structured and detailed analysis of how doctors arrive at diagnostic, intervention and management decisions. Video recordings of actors portraying black (both African American and African-Caribbean) and white (both White American and White British) male and female patients (aged 55 years and 75 years) were presented to doctors randomly selected from the Massachusetts Medical Society list and from Surrey/South West London and West Midlands National Health Service lists, stratified by country (US v.UK), gender, and years of clinical experience (less v. very experienced). Findings demonstrated little evidence of bias affecting doctors' decision making processes, with the exception of less attention being paid to the potential outcomes associated with different treatment options for African American compared with White American patients in the US. Instead, findings suggest greater clinical uncertainty in diagnosing depression amongst black compared with white patients, particularly in the UK. This was evident in more potential diagnoses. There was also a tendency for doctors in both countries to focus more on black patients' physical rather than psychological symptoms and to identify endocrine problems, most often diabetes, as a presenting complaint for them. This suggests that doctors in both countries have a less well developed mental model of depression for black compared with white patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-168
Number of pages8
JournalSocial science and medicine
Early online date3 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014

Bibliographical note

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (

Funding: AG16747, NIA, National Institute on Aging; RES-177-25-0014, ESRC, National Institute on Aging.


  • African-Americans
  • African-Caribbeans
  • Clinical decision making
  • Cognitive processes
  • Depression
  • Primary care
  • Racial disparities
  • Video vignettes


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