health in your own language Benefits of having medical care in Spanish by pedro graterol
Going to the doctor can be an incredibly intimidating experience for everyone. However, this is especially true when there are language barriers between patients and their healthcare providers. These often make it difficult for doctors to effectively communicate treatments or for patients to share their concerns. Partially because of this, according to Pew Research data, approximately a third of Hispanic adults prefer to see Spanish-speaking healthcare providers. This proportion is even higher among Hispanic immigrants, where nearly 60% reported this preference, and remained similar when respondents were asked whether they would like to see a Hispanic healthcare provider. A significant portion of Hispanic adults want to have access to healthcare in their language, and access to this option is often linked with better health outcomes.
The term for this type of health care is language-concordant care, which is often defined in the U.S as a clinical interaction between a patient and a provider where they both speak a non-English language. As was mentioned before, this is important for ease of interaction between doctors and patients. However, it is also essential to build trust, which has been a challenge with immigrant communities and communities of color for decades. This is especially the case after negative experiences with the healthcare system like the forced sterilization of Mexican women in California during the 60s or the Tuskegee syphilis experiments in the Black community in Alabama, as well as ongoing discrimination and racial hostility. The lack of trust, combined with the unique challenges that affect the Hispanic community in the U.S further entrench inequality in healthcare.
This is not just an abstract idea. There is empirical evidence for the benefits of language-concordant care. Hector M. González, William A. Vega, and Wassim Tarraf found in 2011 that when patients and practitioners speak the same language, patients reported better healthcare quality. Moreover, a long-term Canadian study from this year in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that patients that receive language-concordant care are up to 54% less likely to die or experience other severe health outcomes.
To address inequality in the Latino community, there needs to be an increase in language-concordant care. However, the existing supply of doctors does not seem to be able to meet the demand. According to a 2020 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, nearly 45,000 new doctors will be needed to care for the growing Hispanic population. An analysis by Pew Research of federal government data reported that just 9% of healthcare practitioners and technicians are Hispanic. Furthermore, U.S News reports that less than 6% of U.S physicians identify as Spanish speakers. Considering population preferences, many of these doctors will need to be Hispanic, or at least be able to speak Spanish. In order to help mitigate inequality and improve health outcomes in the Latino community, it is very important for medical schools and professional organizations to intentionally increase recruitment and education efforts so that a larger number of doctors can be equipped to provide this fundamental type of healthcare for the Latino community.
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