Diversity matters

Improving health care for Hispanic patients

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am reflecting on my own Hispanic heritage and my experience working with Hispanic patients.


September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to reflect on the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to the U.S. culture and economy. According to the latest statistics, there are roughly 62 million Hispanics living in the United States.

Hispanics are people who have descended from Spain or Spanish-speaking countries. You may have also heard the terms Latino, Latina and Latinx. These are people who are descendants from Latin American countries, many of whom also identify as Hispanic.

With that in mind, how can physicians deliver quality healthcare to Hispanics and other Latinxs when they become your patients?

Physicians can greatly improve medical care for their Hispanic patients by using Spanish language translators to communicate treatment plans. It is especially important at the end of the office visit to ask the patients if they understood instructions, and in some cases to repeat back what they learned. The directions on how to take the medications should be written in Spanish for those who don’t know English as well. Marking the bottles for what medications are used to treat specific conditions helps too, i.e., “metoprolol succinate para PRESSION.”

Also, giving patients a print-out of their medication list can increase compliance when taking their meds. Schedule more frequent appointments to develop a strong rapport because some Hispanic patients are wary of the U.S. health care system. Lastly, maintain curiosity about their culture, respect their work ethic and learn from them.

Hispanic patients still experience limits to necessary medical care

Recent surveys of Hispanic patients have revealed information about how they view health care in the U.S.

Health care for Hispanic patients has improved over the last two decades, but there are still challenges to overcome. Many Hispanic patients remain uninsured, which greatly limits access to preventive medical care services. Overall, Hispanics have worse medical outcomes than their non-Hispanic white and Black counterparts because they sometimes work in low-income jobs that do not provide them with insurance. The percentage of Hispanics who work is roughly equal to white Americans, but the difference in average household income is staggering. Many low-paying jobs in this country often do not offer health insurance to their essential workers.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of Hispanic Americans to determine their beliefs as to why there is still such a disparity in health outcomes. The top reason they found for poorer health care among Hispanics was working in jobs that put them at risk for health problems, while the second reason was less access to quality medical care in their neighborhoods.

Many Hispanic patients live in underserved areas where access to medical care is harder to come by. Other top reasons included language and communication barriers, higher incidence of pre-existing health conditions and living in areas with environmental problems. Of note, 30% of Hispanics cite differential treatment by health care providers as a reason for disparities in health care outcomes.

At my employer, Aunt Martha’s Clinic in Carpentersville, Illinois, the majority of our patients are Hispanics of Mexican-American origin who work in traditional blue-collar jobs and are all too often uninsured. The patients will forego certain medications, imaging studies or seeing specialists for their chronic medical conditions because of treatment costs.

Without being able to manage their health adequately, the disease outcomes are worse, and they might end up needing to go to the ER for treatment. However, the ER typically deals with acute issues and does not manage chronic diseases; hence patients are given a Band-Aid for medical problems that could otherwise be dealt with on an outpatient basis.

Facing the challenges full force

We do not give up hope though, and tackle our Hispanic patients’ health care issues head on. Patients are given instructional materials on changing their lifestyle habits and encouraged to partake in healthier eating and exercise. Follow-up appointments are scheduled by clinical providers and staff reinforce treatment plans in Spanish.

Our front desk staff now also offer assistance in obtaining state medical insurance for any patients who are 42 years of age and older and have maintained a qualifying immigration status. There is a dedicated referral coordinator for our region who schedules imaging studies with local hospitals and books appointments for specialists. Consult notes are requested from specialists to coordinate continuity of care for chronic medical conditions. Clinical staff calls local specialists for urgent consultations. Pharmacies help by offering low-cost meds or letting patients know that they can apply to the 340b program for meds.

Therefore, during National Hispanic Heritage Month, when I reflect on my own Spanish/Latin American heritage, I am really proud of my patients and value their contributions to the country immensely. The food we eat, the Amazon boxes at my door, the pipes for my plumbing, the candy from the local factory – my people are in it with the rest of the U.S. workers to make all these things available to us. For that, I am forever grateful, and at Aunt Martha’s Clinic, we recognize their efforts and give back to them with our hearts fully vested.

Related reading:

How kidney testing is affected by racial bias

My journey as an underrepresented minority in medicine with mentors who guided me along the way

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy