Hispanics in the United States want culturally-competent health care providers–doctors and medical staff who understand the specific cultural needs of Hispanics patients–according to a report from Kaiser Health News.
In an interview with Dr. Elena V. Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, Kaiser uncovered why the diversity in the medical world created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be so important for the Hispanic community.
“No one at one point could have predicted that Hispanics would overtake blacks in this country to be the number one ethnic minority. By the year 2042, the Census says one in four Americans will be of Hispanic origin,” Rios said in the interview.
“It doesn’t mean they’re all going to be Spanish-speaking, but they’re going to be more interested in having providers who can appreciate their culture and understand their families’ dynamics and their traditions, what types of food they like if they’re going to give them nutrition advice…so that’s the challenge, and it’s an opportunity for our organization to be partners with those who don’t understand that challenge.”
The National Hispanic Medical Association has long been striving to improve diversity in the medical world, training more than 220 doctors in culturally-competent care. Many of those individuals have gone on to have important roles in the department of Health and Human Services, thus having an impact on medical decisions which ultimately influences Hispanic health care at the patient level.
Why culturally-competent health care providers are important
When it comes to health care for Hispanics in the United States, there are a number of barriers which keep Hispanics disproportionately affected by certain chronic diseases. While communication barriers and finances are two of the biggest hurdles, many Hispanics also do not trust their health care providers due to a lack of culturally-sensitive care.
What this means is Hispanics want to feel as if their medical providers are invested in them as individuals, and this means understanding certain cultural stigmas, the importance of family inclusion in diagnosis and treatment, and how spiritual beliefs play a role in the treatment process–or lack thereof.
Culturally-competent health care providers are not just bridging the trust gap with patients in this manner, they are creating a means of successful communication, regardless of language.
“Language is not the only way to communicate with individuals,” University of Texas Medical Branch Hispanic Center of Excellence Director Norma A. Pérez told Saludify earlier in 2013. “It’s also understanding where they come from and who they are.”
In order for more culturally-sensitive care to be seen in the medical world, Rios indicated more attention to diversity is needed along all lines of health education. This includes at the grammar school level, where minority students need a clear understanding and focus in the subjects of math and science. Without these vital preliminary skills, students can’t make it into the medical programs they desire or may not be able to specialize in certain fields if they do make it into medical school.
“But there’s still this large percentage of minority medical students in primary care compared to white medical students. I think it has to do with the competitiveness of specialty residency programs,” she said. “They have remained very small and hard to get into. You have to be top of the class, you have to be very competitive.”
Rios noted the ACA will open doors for more culturally-competent physicians by increasing the accountability of clinics and hospitals around the country. The ACA puts an emphasis on more medical reporting, evidence-based medicine, community resources, and preventative care. These focus points will need to be addressed in areas with minority patients, and providing culturally-competent health care providers is one way to address such concerns.
Patient-centered care is what the ACA is all about, explained Rios. In order for that to happen, more medical facilities will need to consider cultural needs as well as emotional and physical ones.
Other strides being made toward culturally-relevant care
While Rios and the National Hispanic Medical Association are doing their part to train and promote diversity among the general health care world, other organizations are also working toward more culturally-sensitive in more specific areas. Mental health, for example, is one area Hispanics desperately need to overcome cultural barriers if they hope to overcome community stigma regarding mental illness.
Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) is one such organization working toward the goal of diversity.
“We at MSPP are very proud of the Latino Mental Health Program because it represents our mission of meeting the needs and making a difference so well,” Dr. Stacey Lambert, the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, told SAludify.
“The program was designed to increase the number of culturally competent and linguistically skilled clinicians who could provide services to the Latino population. The school recognized the significant need given the dramatically rising number of Latinos in the U.S. relative to the low number of clinicians who can speak Spanish and understand the nuances of the various Latino cultures.”
These efforts now combined with the focus of the ACA will hopefully encourage more Hispanics to seek out the medical care they will now have access to through health care reform.