Within‐Physician Differences in Patient Sharing Between Primary Care Physicians and Cardiologists Who Treat White and Black Patients With Heart Disease

Luke J. Matthews, Cheryl L. Damberg, Shiyuan Zhang, Jose J. Escarce, C. Ben Gibson, Megan S. Schuler, Ioana Popescu

ResearchPosted on rand.org Nov 22, 2023Published in: Journal of the American Heart Association (2023). doi: 10.1161/JAHA.123.030653


Black‐White disparities in heart disease treatment may be attributable to differences in physician referral networks. We mapped physician networks for Medicare patients and examined within‐physician Black‐White differences in patient sharing between primary care physicians and cardiologists.

Methods and Results

Using Medicare fee‐for‐service files for 2016 to 2017, we identified a cohort of Black and White patients with heart disease and the primary care physicians and cardiologists treating them. To ensure the robustness of within‐physician comparisons, we restricted the sample to regional health care markets (ie, hospital referral regions) with at least 10 physicians sharing ≥3 Black and White patients. We used claims to construct 2 race‐specific physician network measures: degree (number of cardiologists with whom a primary care physician shares patients) and transitivity (network tightness). Measures were adjusted for Black‐White differences in physician panel size and calculated for all settings (hospital and office) and for office settings only. Of 306 US hospital referral regions, 226 and 145 met study criteria for all settings and office setting analyses, respectively. Black patients had more cardiology encounters overall (6.9 versus 6.6; P<0.001) and with unique cardiologists (3.0 versus 2.6; P<0.001), but fewer office encounters (31.7% versus 41.1%; P<0.001). Primary care physicians shared Black patients with more cardiologists than White patients (mean differential degree 23.4 for all settings and 3.6 for office analyses; P<0.001 for both). Black patient‐sharing networks were less tightly connected in all but office settings (mean differential transitivity −0.2 for all settings [P<0.001] and near 0 for office analyses [P=0.74]).


Within‐physician Black‐White differences in patient sharing exist and may contribute to disparities in cardiac care.


Document Details

  • Publisher: Journal of the American Heart Association
  • Availability: Non-RAND
  • Year: 2023
  • Pages: 9
  • Document Number: EP-70315

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