The Hispanic population in the United States reached 62.1 million in 2020, up from 50.5 million in 2010. That’s an increase of 23% over the previous decade, outpacing the nation’s 7% overall population growth.
However, as this population grows, it continues to face significant health disparities. For example, Hispanics have higher rates of obesity, are about 50% more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease, and are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as non-Hispanic whites.1
As we honor Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s a good time to think about how to address these disparities. Here are three ways healthcare providers can better support their Hispanic patients.
Understand their unique cultural needs
Like all patients, Hispanics have their own unique cultural needs. These should be understood and addressed during their care.
Ray Turley, RN, a clinical content coordinator for Krames with patient care experience, said that religion and family dynamics often play a large role in Hispanic patients’ care. “The Hispanic population often comes from a strong Catholic background,” Turley said. “So understanding their religious and spiritual beliefs helps providers tailor the best care plan for these patients.”
Additionally, Turley emphasized that Hispanic patients are more likely to come from larger, multi-generational families. Family members may join patients as they’re receiving healthcare services, and a family-centered decision-making model is more common than the individual-based model prevalent in U.S. healthcare.
These are a few examples of some potential cultural needs, but they vary across patients. Making cultural assessments a standard part of patient care helps organizations provide more culturally competent care for Hispanic and other patient populations.
Meet their language needs
Nearly a third of Hispanics in the U.S. are not fluent in English, meaning efforts to engage them begin with translation or interpretation.
“During my nursing career, I saw situations when interpreters weren’t used,” Turley said. “And patient care suffers because so much can be lost.”
Turley said that children sometimes act as interpreters for their family members. However, recent research shows that patients and their caregivers with a limited knowledge of English are less likely to speak up or to ask questions of their healthcare providers, according to a JAMA Network Open study.
This means that offering patient education in Spanish is critical. “Krames has patient education, including discharge instructions, in a variety of formats, like digital, video, and print.” Turley said. “And it’s offered in English, Spanish, and 15 other languages to help overcome barriers between patients and providers.”
“In addition to the typical patient education materials, offering information on healthcare enrollment and insurance plans or how to access free or low cost healthcare if insurance isn't available is also important,” he added.
Beyond having interpreters available, Turley recommends that providers hire bilingual, diverse staff to meet the needs of a diverse patient population.
Offer education and outreach services to the community
One way to better support Hispanic patients is to meet them where they are. According to Turley, this includes attending cultural events and health fairs.
“Healthcare providers can engage patients at these events and get them talking about their health needs,” he added. “For example, mental health used to be more of a taboo topic in the Hispanic community, but it’s much more out in the open now.”
Some providers have also created specific programs tailored to their local communities within their own service offerings. Seattle-based Harborview Medical Center’s Community House Calls Program has cultural mediators who offer interpretation, health education, case management, and advocacy to patients – about 40% of which are Spanish speakers. Houston-based St. Joseph Medical Center launched their Latino Health Center of Excellence in the fall of 2021. The center sees patients who identify as “Spanish-speaking preferred” and serves as a place for non-acute patients to recover after undergoing a procedure.
Taking the next step
These three examples are just some of the ways that healthcare providers can better support Hispanic patients. But there are many resources available to help organizations amp up their efforts. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health offers a knowledge center, manages key initiatives, and provides grant funding to help healthcare organizations. State and local government offices may have additional resources related to serving Hispanic patients.
Additionally, Turley recommends leaning on vendors and partners for additional help. “Partners, like Krames, can help identify gaps and ensure your organization is providing the best patient experience possible.”
Editor’s Note: The term “Hispanic” refers to all ethnic groups with Spanish origin or descent, regardless of race.
- Hispanic Health. (2015). Retrieved August 31, 2022, from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/hispanic-health/.