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Making Connections: Spanish for Medical Purposes and Service-Learning

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This article explores the connection between the growing Latino population in the United States, health care disparities, the need to develop more Spanish for Medical Purposes courses, and the potential for servicelearning to help make future health care practitioners aware of the importance of cultural and linguistic competence for successful providerpatient relationships.

The U.S. Census Bureau, estimates that in 2007 there were about 45.5 million persons of Latino origin in the United States, representing 15.1% of the population. By 2050, this number is projected to reach 30.25%, or 132.8 million people. The continued growth in language and cultural diversity in the United States is directly related to racial and ethnic disparities in health care. The National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health in 2001, aim to ensure equitable and effective treatment in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner to all cultural groups. Based on these standards, the American Institutes for Research issued a guide to implementing language access services in health care organizations, to improve quality of care, health outcomes and health status, increase patient satisfaction, and enhance appropriate resource utilization (American Institutes for Research 2005, 1). Despite these efforts, as recently as 2008, Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza testified before the U.S. House of Representatives that “Latinos and other racial and ethnic minorities face considerable challenges within the health care system. Deep-rooted inequities have created obstacles to obtaining health coverage and the critical services that are needed to maintain good health” (National Council of la Raza 2008, 1). Murguía cited language and communication barriers among the key contributors to Latino health care disparities. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality National Healthcare Disparities Report, provides a comprehensive national overview of disparities in health care among different populations in the United States. According to the 2007 report, for Latinos, 56% of disparities in quality have not gotten smaller, and 80% of core access measures have either remained unchanged or gotten worse since the first report in 2000–2001(Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality 2008, 3–4). The disparities persist, in part, due to communication barriers:

Quality health care requires that patients and providers communicate effectively. Persons who speak a language other than English at home may have less access to resources, such as health insurance, that facilitate getting needed health care. The ability of providers and patients to communicate clearly with one another can be compromised if they do not speak the same language. Quality may suffer if patients with limited English proficiency are unable to express their care needs to providers who speak English only or who do not have an interpreter's assistance. Communication problems between the patient and provider can lead to lower patient adherence to medications and decreased participation in medical decision-making, as well as exacerbate cultural differences that impair the delivery of quality health care. (174)

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2010

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