September 19, 2008

Where Are Latinos Getting Medical Info?

Want to know where Latinos are getting the majority of their medical information? According the Pew Hispanic Center, 83 percent of Latinos get their health information from some branch of the media, with television being the dominant source. And they’re not just listening—79 percent say they take that advice and act on it.

“What I personally found most interesting [in the Pew study] was the importance of the media in transporting health information to Latinos,” says Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher for the Pew Hispanic Center. “The proportion of Latinos who reported getting medical information from the media was actually higher than the proportion who stated that they got information from a medical professional, which is pretty compelling.”

Latinos are twice as likely as Blacks and three times as likely as whites to lack a regular healthcare provider, so they turn to social outlets to obtain information. In fact, more than 1 in 4 Latinos say they received no information regarding health or healthcare from doctors or healthcare professionals in the past year.

“Anything that the hairdresser or the bodega owner or the neighbor tells them … they will prefer to listen [to],” says Dr. Astrid T. Almodovar, assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). But, he warns, “the information is usually wrong; it’s usually extremely alarmist and usually goes to the determent of the outcome of the patient.”

Print and broadcast media, churches, community groups, family, friends and the Internet are all sources of health and medical information for many Latinos. And since Latinos are not one monolithic group, the different sub-groups rely on different types of media. U.S.-born Latinos and those who have higher levels of education are more likely to get information in English from sources such as television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Latinos who have lower levels of education or who come from different countries rely heavily on Spanish-language media, including television and print media for information.

“The importance of television—especially for the less-educated—is very interesting,” says Livingston. “Although our results did not show evidence of people having trouble navigating the medical system, it is very interesting that the less-assimilated and the less-advantaged as far as education are especially likely to depend on the media.”

People with at least some college education are almost 33 percent more likely to have gotten a medical professional’s advice than people lacking a high-school diploma.

“Patients need to be educated,” says Almodovar. “That’s the biggest piece of the pie. Limited English proficiency is [also] a big factor in why patients don’t get the care necessary.”

But even if Latinos aren’t educated properly when it comes to healthcare, the issue is still very important when it pertains to Latino voters. Ninety percent of Latino registered voters say healthcare is an extremely important issue, according to a study on Latino Voter Attitudes conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.

So which Latinos are getting proper medical care?

Latinas (77 percent) are more likely than men (66 percent) to report getting health information from doctors and the medical community in the past year. This could be attributed to the underlying machismo culture among Latinos, which still exists today and indicates that a man who goes to the doctor or is sick is weak. In 2003, the National Hispanic Medical Association called for a National Hispanic Health Policy that specifically addresses this cultural barrier, citing that machismo attitudes keep [Latino] men from going to the doctor.”

That cultural barrier could very well add up to long-term, untreated health conditions. The Pew Hispanic Center study found that when asked why Latinos lack a usual provider, 41 percent of respondents say the principal reason is that they are seldom sick. Yet diabetes still runs rampant in the U.S. Latino community, especially Type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to use the insulin to metabolize or to use glucose for energy,” says Almodovar. “Especially among Latinos, we have to let the person with diabetes know that having a diagnosis of diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence.”

So while Latinos may not feel sick as much as other groups, diabetes is a disease that is accompanied by a slew of other complications. In addition, according to the American Diabetes Association, millions of Americans are unaware that they even have diabetes. Latinos relying solely on the media for medical information may have a disease that can be deadly if it goes untreated.

“We must educate ourselves and educate our patients to understand that a diagnosis of diabetes is not the end of the world,” adds Almodovar. “On the contrary, it’s better to know it and treat it than to just neglect it.”

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