For years, many U.S. Hispanics have been excluded from treatment studies because they don’t speak English. So a handful of Southern California researchers got creative when recruiting patients for a recent project.
Would having Spanish-speaking staff and Spanish-language materials result in significantly more Hispanic participants than they’d seen in previous studies, they wondered.
It did. And it was unexpectedly easy to sign up Spanish speakers once researchers started speaking their language, said Nerses Sanossian, M.D., the study’s lead author and associate professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
The study, published recently in the journal Stroke, looked at the protective benefits of magnesium on nerve cells in people having a stroke. The 1,700 patients in the study were from hospitals in Los Angeles County and Orange County, where the proportion of Hispanics is larger than the national average. In Los Angeles County, 38 percent of residents speak Spanish.
“Patients should be able to give consent and have a discussion with investigators in the language they’re comfortable with,” said Sanossian, who is fluent in Spanish. “It’s not their responsibility for that, it’s the researchers’ responsibility.”
To help them recruit participants, the investigators enlisted paramedics, who carried two cell phones — one that would dial an English-speaking researcher and another that would dial a Spanish-speaking researcher. When paramedics encountered someone having stroke symptoms, they’d use the phone that matched the patient’s preferred language. Researchers would then go over the study objectives and the consent documents.