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January 31, 2006

A doctor like me

Some women insist on female gynocologists. Some men wouldn't be caught dead going to anyone but a male internist. There are just some things we feel more comfortable discussing with one of our own (leaving aside the physical examination angle).

So it doesn't surprise me that there would be web sites that place people with doctors who look -- or think -- like them. According to the Washington Post's health section:

Several Web sites can help consumers find doctors and other health care providers with specified characteristics, including race, religion and sensitivity to sexual orientation.

The sites -- which list physicians who are African American, Christian or "gay- or lesbian-friendly" -- are putting a new spin on affinity-group marketing, a tactic usually associated with insurance or real estate sales.

"We feel that, with so many pressing medical issues for blacks, that we need to make sure that our medical issues are attended to," said Salli Purnell, marketing director for, a Web site based in Norfolk.
There may really be something to this. A doctor who shares cultural background with the patient might give the patient a comfort factor that would otherwise be missing.

But, of course, your mileage may vary. Don't forget to consider other factors -- like whether the doctor is competent.
It's not hard to see the sites' appeal, said Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, a consumer advocacy group based in New York. "I think it's understandable given concerns about cultural sensitivity [that] people may feel more comfortable with a doctor if they look like them or think like them."

But there should be more to a patient's decision, Levin said. "If you're just searching one characteristic, which only has to do with what they believe or who they are, I think that's not a very good way to choose a physician."
Even one of the web sites where you can find a black doctor has an advisory:, for instance, carries this disclaimer: "Users are warned to check and verify the credentials of any alleged health care provider before consenting to any and all courses of treatment. Materials found on the site are for reference purposes only and are not recommended or endorsed by the owners of"
And I can't help thinking about the episode of "All in the Family," in which Archie Bunker doesn't try to find a lawyer from his own background but absolutely insists on finding a Jewish lawyer. I guess there's a different angle to everything.