By 2045, approximately 50 million Latino-American men will live in the United States. Imagine if this growing population avoided healthcare; instead of seeking preventative care, they only sought emergency treatment when necessary. It’s a scary thought on its way to becoming reality if not addressed soon.
Currently, Latino males are more likely to be sick and suffer from chronic illnesses than the average American. They are more likely to be obese, develop diabetes, and have high blood pressure, among other illnesses, and are less likely to seek treatment. Compounding matters, due to a distrust of the American health system, Hispanic men avoid doctors, cancer screenings and medication. Instead, they count on the emergency room as their primary point of treatment.
For obvious reasons, this poses a serious challenge. As José Arévalo, board chairman of Latino Physicians of California said, the costly consequences of long-ignored conditions “could literally break the health care system.”
Economic and Language Barriers
Whether it is a lack of access or a lack of desire to participate in disease prevention practices, Latino men living in America are less likely to be in physicians’ waiting rooms. For Latino adults, one-quarter lack a primary provider, half have not visited a doctor in a year, and one-third are not insured.
This is partly because one-quarter of Latinos are undocumented, and fear exposing their status. For others, it’s a language barrier, and as a result they shy away from asking for help. For others, it’s a misunderstanding of how the system works or concern with the cost of care.
But the apprehension runs deeper than language, income, education or access to insurance. In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center Study found that half of Latinos who avoided medical care had a high-school degree, one-third were American-born, and nearly half had insurance.
Latino men’s apprehension to healthcare cannot be tied to just one cultural belief. There are multiple reasons that contribute to the avoidance.
One contributing factor is the longing for a personal, and welcoming doctor-patient relationship often absent from the traditional physician-centric model. Rather than subject themselves to a visit with a physician they may not easily communicate with and don’t necessarily trust, they turn to practices more comfortable to them, like alternative medicine.
Hispanic and Latino populations have a strong cultural connection to alternative medicine practices. More than 45% of Latinos rely on home remedies and 72% report never using prescription drugs. While alternative remedies are not inherently wrong, the avoidance of conventional healthcare makes it challenging for individuals to identify serious, life-threatening conditions often until it is too late.
Another reason for Latino men’s apprehension to healthcare comes down to pride. Many Latino men don’t want to seek care unless their condition is serious, which is a main reason why data shows that Hispanic men are more likely than Hispanic women, white women and white men to visit the emergency room. They wait until they have no choice but to get help.
Building Cultural Competence
Medical institutions need to do more to keep Hispanic men healthy, and persuade them to get regular exams. They need to understand their community and be culturally aware of bias to improve communication and coordination of care.
Besides understanding the cultural needs that must be met to treat an individual holistically, medical professionals should also become familiar with resources available to refer patients when community service groups can fill the gap. With cultural competence, the wary wall Latino men have built between themselves and physicians can be broken down, and ultimately, improve health outcomes for this growing population.
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