By Maria N. Plascencia
We have all heard the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This may be true, but it seems that the Latino community has a
different kind of apple; the kind of apple that actually leads Latinos to avoid physicians.
Recently, I bumped into my neighbor, Berta, who was
irritated with her husband. Her 34-year-old Latino husband
had refused to go to the doctor for a checkup. This time, her suggestion of having him visit
a doctor was due to numerous lumps that were developing on his skin. One in particular was on the foot, causing him to limp around the house. Even though it was clear that he was in pain, he would not leave work for a day to go to the doctor. Berta took initiative by making an appointment for him on his day off but he preferred to pay the fee for missing the appointment.
At first, it was baffling how someone can put their health at risk by avoiding the doctor, but as it turns out, it happens often, specifically in Latino families. According to the Pew Research Center, at least one in every four Hispanics say that they received no information regarding health or health care professionals
in the past year, which means they are not getting their health monitored.
Preventive care is essential to combating disease and maintaining good health. This would help our Latino population by reducing numbers in leading causes of death such as cancer and heart disease. By regularly visiting a physician, they would be able to provide them with an early diagnosis of a chronic disease instead of going once it’s too late.
Many Latinos would use the same argument that Berta’s husband had: he would lose out in making money at work if he missed a day. Truly, income was not the reason since he ended up paying the ultimate price
by not going at all. Yes, some Latinos do not have the same access to financial resources
as other ethnicities; this is inevitably seen in the case of those who are undocumented and unable to have Medicaid or
other government funds. We cannot ignore that, for
many, it is difficult to afford health care since many Latinos are working class and still do not qualify for public health programs due to their careers that often lack benefits. Cost
is undeniably an obstacle for some, but it is not the only one.
I have noticed that even well-educated, middle class and even Latinos born in the United States tend to have the same mindset. What is truly keeping Latinos out of the doctor’s office? One of the factors that may affect this rate is the language barrier. Many Latinos tend to speak primarily Spanish in the household, which may make the doctor’s visit slightly uncomfortable even if they do speak some English.
Not being able to tell the doctor exactly how one feels is frustrating, even for an English speaker, but it is even harder for those who cannot communicate fluently. Most clinics do have translators, but many patients think information is lost in the process or may not be as accurate as possible. The language barrier leads to patients not understanding correctly and not asking the concerns they have over their health. This
may discourage the patient and make them think it is not worth going since they leave with the same (or more) questions they had in the first place.
The communication between Latino patients and the physician needs to be personal. Our community needs to feel that they trust their doctor to tell them sensitive information often given at a clinic. Latinos are not known for looking weak in public toward strangers, and not being healthy falls into this category.
This is the main reason that many Latinos use folk medicine or home remedies, which are usually recommended from their “abuelita,” or their friends whom they trust. Our health care system does not provide the support, time or individualized care that Latinos seek. As our Latino community grows rapidly in the United States, it continues to be an important issue. It is vital that our health care system takes this into account these factors in the changes that need to be made to provide better health care for all, including Latinos.
Maria Plascencia studies biology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ TheSagebrush.