It’s hard enough to understand all the advice a doctor dispenses.
But language and cultural barriers are creating additional distrust among Hispanic patients, making them nearly twice as likely to avoid important cancer screenings as their white counterparts, a researcher said Thursday.
“If there are communication barriers, there are opportunities for misrepresentation and opportunities for miscommunication,” said B. Lee Green, the senior study author and senior member of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Health Outcomes and Behavior Program.
The analysis revealed that Hispanics would cite fear of “being a guinea pig” or a distrust of medical professionals as reasons to avoid cancer screenings.
Embarrassment associated with the screening or fear their results would not be kept confidential were mentioned less in the phone survey of 1,100 Baltimore, New York City and San Juan, Puerto Rico, residents.
Green said language barriers magnify already existing racial, ethnic and educational divides between patients and health care providers.
Also, non-English-speaking minorities are less likely to establish a rapport or receive adequate information or empathy from their doctor, said the study published in the Journal of Health for the Poor and Underserved.
If patients can clearly understand what is being said, they become much more apt to engage and ask questions, Green said.
Nearly 100,000 new cancer cases are diagnosed annually in Hispanics in the United States, the American Cancer Society reports.
And while the incidences of cancer and death rates are lower among Hispanics, they are more likely to be diagnosed with a more serious later-stage cancer than non-Hispanic whites, according to the “Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos” report for 2009 to 2011.
Green said attempts to close this gap usually focus on educating patients, but attention needs to shift more to health care providers, who can focus on improving how they stress the importance of early disease detection.
Moffitt, which regularly uses translators with patients, recently formed a committee to explore cultural and linguistic competency among its staff. Its purpose is to improve the way medical information is translated to patients, and to address such cultural attitudes as the thought that getting a disease is fate and not preventable.