Hispanic Heritage Month offers a time to honor the culture and backgrounds of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States. With the Hispanic and Latino population rising to 62.1 million as of the 2020 census, the group makes up almost 19% of the United States population. Within that group, individuals face unique social determinants of health (SDOH) risk factors that impact their access to healthcare and dictate their health outcomes.
As such, considering the unique SDOH facing the Latinx population can offer an opportunity to drive health equity and boost health outcomes.
SDOH Risk Factors Facing Latinx
Studies quantify the negative impact of language barriers on access to healthcare for the Latinx population. For example, those patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) may struggle to schedule appointments or have difficulty comprehensively addressing their concerns during doctor visits. Further, suppose their provider is not fluent in Spanish. In that case, the provider may struggle to properly characterize the nuances of a medication’s side effects or to express the importance of a particular course of treatment. Further, the provider may not understand the complexities of the barriers facing patients if they do not speak Spanish, which could result in a health plan that does not address the complete risk factors impacting a patient. Ultimately, language barriers can lead to inadequate care and misunderstandings or misdiagnoses.
In addition to language barriers, a lack of cultural competence can present a risk factor for this population. For example, suppose a provider does not understand the cultural significance of particular foods or celebrations. In that case, they may recommend interventions, such as avoiding certain foods and not considering the cultural relevance of that food. Also, if the provider does not have enough time with each patient to understand the nuances of the risk factors facing that individual, the provider may miss information that could help tailor the most successful treatment plan.
Further, Hispanic and Latino families may have different family structures and support systems, which can correlate to caregiving responsibilities and access to social support networks, potentially affecting health outcomes. As such, a provider that considers the unique family dynamic of each patient will be able to tailor the most relevant and supportive healthcare plan for the individual. For instance, if a patient needs to care for grandchildren, they may struggle to get to doctor appointments across town and could benefit from a telehealth option instead.
Benefits of Culturally Relevant Support
When providers understand the unique SDOH risk factors facing Hispanic and Latino patients, they can provide culturally sensitive care. Doing so has a double benefit: it can improve patient-provider relationships and enhance healthcare outcomes for these patients.
Moreover, with the shift towards health equity – such as the new requirements of ACO REACH groups to demonstrate the efficacy of their health equity plans – risk-bearing organizations face not only a moral but a financial duty to address the SDOH facing their Hispanic and Latino patient populations.
Impact on Healthcare Outcomes
Providers and healthcare organizations have an opportunity to improve the healthcare outcomes of their Hispanic and Latino patients. Considering the unique SDoH and health barriers of Hispanic and Latino patient populations can help drive health equity for this historically marginalized group.
Ultimately, both Hispanic and Latino patients and healthcare providers stand to gain from these efforts. For these patients, it means receiving care more attuned to their unique cultural needs and values, fostering trust in the healthcare system, and ultimately improving health outcomes. For healthcare organizations, the benefits are twofold. Not only do they contribute to reducing health disparities and promote health equity, but they also experience tangible improvements in the health outcomes of their Hispanic and Latino populations.
By prioritizing social determinants of health, risk-bearing organizations can improve the health and well-being of their Hispanic and Latino patients. This shift not only represents a moral imperative but also a strategic move towards a more inclusive and effective healthcare system.