For many Hispanic citizens, as well as other minority groups, the one-size-fits-all healthcare system in the United States has failed them. There is a poor understanding of how it works, how to access it, how to pay for it, and what its ultimate value is.
The rapid growth in the Hispanic population, and especially in the number of Hispanic youth, represents one of the most dramatic and important demographic trends affecting the United States. Working-age Hispanic adults will age to become the first sizable wave of Hispanic seniors. More consequential, the large number of Hispanic children will age to expand the ranks of young and middle-aged adults within a decade or two. The health status and health behaviors of today’s youth will play a central role in shaping the long-term health and health care needs not only of Hispanics in the United States but also of all Americans.
The time has come for better integration of physicians, patients, and payment systems to serve this large and growing demographic, but there are some challenges to overcome.
Hispanics are the racial group least likely to visit the doctor. More than one-fourth of Hispanic adults in the United States lack a usual healthcare provider (medical home) and almost half of Hispanics never visit a medical professional during the course of the year. Additionally, Hispanics are more likely than members of other groups to delay healthcare for an illness or drop out of treatment when symptoms disappear.
The Hispanic population suffers from poor health literacy. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. With only 4% of Hispanics proficient, and over 40% below basic literacy skills, the primary care physician plays an essential role in managing the healthcare needs of Hispanic families.
Moreover, the population has a long history of cultural uneasiness with the American style of healthcare, and a tradition of privacy and individual pride that makes many Hispanics believe there is no need to ask for help. Hispanic’s trust in U.S. healthcare diminishes, even more, when doctors don’t approach patients in the way they expect. For many Hispanics, a doctor-patient relationship needs to feel personal, welcoming and concerned for the individual as a whole. This makes the American health care setting, in which doctors often rush visits and lack time to establish relationships with patients, seem untrustworthy.
Many successful programs have been created, but with limited sustainability and integration into the community-based health dynamic. This needs to change. The time is now.
Equality Health, as part of the fully-integrated care delivery system, brings new concepts forward in terms of how integrated systems and population health can work together to serve this unique population in an inclusive manner, respecting the traditions and challenges represented by the multi-generational family in the U.S. today.