Research Article| Volume 21, ISSUE 1-2, P225-237, January 2020

Assessment and Treatment Recommendations for Pediatric Pain: The Influence of Patient Race, Patient Gender, and Provider Pain-Related Attitudes


      • Providers rated Black pediatric patients as more distressed by pain.
      • Providers rated Black pediatric patients as experiencing more pain interference.
      • Providers were more likely to recommended opioids to Black pediatric patients.
      • Providers rated female pediatric patients as more distressed by pain.
      • Providers did not recommend different pain treatments based on patient gender.


      Previous studies have documented that racial minorities and women receive poorer pain care than their demographic counterparts. Providers contribute to these disparities when their pain-related decision-making systematically varies across patient groups. Less is known about racial and gender disparities in children with pain or the extent to which providers contribute to these disparities. In a sample of 129 medical students (henceforth referred to as "providers"), Virtual Human methodology and a pain-related version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) were used to examine the effects of patient race/gender on providers’ pain assessment/treatment decisions for pediatric chronic abdominal pain, as well as the moderating role of provider implicit pain-related race/gender attitudes. Findings indicated that providers rated Black patients as more distressed (mean difference [MD] = 2.33, P < .01, standard error [SE] = .71, 95% confidence interval [CI] = .92, 3.73) and as experiencing more pain-related interference (MD = 3.14, P < .01, SE = .76, 95% CI = 1.63, 4.64) compared to White patients. Providers were more likely to recommend opioids for Black patients than White patients (MD = 2.41, P < .01, SE = .58, 95% CI = 1.05, 3.76). Female patients were perceived to be more distressed by their pain (MD = 2.14, P < .01, SE = .79, 95% CI = .58, 3.70) than male patients, however there were no gender differences in treatment recommendations. IAT results indicated that providers held implicit attitudes that Black Americans (M = .19, standard deviation [SD] = .29) and males (M = .38, SD = .29) were more pain-tolerant than their demographic counterparts; however, these implicit attitudes did not significantly moderate their pain assessment/treatment decisions. Future studies are needed to elucidate specific paths through which the pain experience and care of children differ across racial and gender groups.


      Providers’ pain assessment (ie, pain distress/pain interference) and treatment (ie, opioids) of pediatric pain differs across patient race and to a lesser extent, patient gender. This study represents a critical step in research on pain-related disparities in pediatric pain.


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