The data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is startling. About half of adult Hispanics reported that they did not see a doctor in 2008, compared with 29 percent of adults in other ethnic groups.
Why is there such a gap? One reason is the lack of health insurance. One in three Hispanics — 33 percent — under age 65 did not have health insurance coverage in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our recent report on disparities in health care also found that, compared with whites, the proportion of Hispanics who said they had poor communication with their health care providers is growing. And the percentage of Hispanics who regularly get important screening tests to check for diabetes or cancer is not improving.
However, Hispanics do seek out information on their care, but research shows that they are more likely to consult other people — even casual acquaintances — instead of a doctor when they have health concerns.
To address these problems, AHRQ and the Ad Council have created a new Spanish language campaign called Conoce las Preguntas, or Know the Questions. Through TV, radio, print and Web ads, the new campaign encourages Hispanics to get more involved in their health care and to talk with their doctors.
One ad, for example, shows a middle-aged man with a backache asking for treatment advice from his barber, a woman in a laundromat, and a friend at the gym. Each offers different — and sometimes conflicting — remedies: use heat to relieve the ache, use cold, and exercise. Finally, in the last part of the ad, the man asks his doctor what he should do about his aching back.
These public service announcements also offer tips to help Hispanics prepare for medical appointments by thinking about questions to ask during doctors' visits. Additional tips include talking to the doctor about all symptoms, habits and treatments; making sure you understand what your doctor tells you; and following instructions about medicines or follow-up visits.
The messages direct audiences to visit AHRQ's Spanish-language website for important health information.
This is only one effort to improve health and health care for Hispanics. Federal health clinics offer a range of health services, even if patients don't have insurance. They provide checkups, treatments if you're sick, care for pregnant women and immunizations for children. These clinics are located in most cities and in many rural areas. Go to the Find a Health Center website to find one in your area.
Today, many hospitals, doctor's offices and pharmacies have staff who speak Spanish fluently. And many websites for patients, such as AHRQ's and Healthfinder.gov, offer information in Spanish.
AHRQ and the Ad Council's new campaign support the federal Health and Human Services' Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in the United States. The plan aims to help all citizens reap the benefits of good medical information and timely care.
I'm Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that's my opinion on how to navigate the health system.
Carolyn M. Clancy, a general internist and researcher, is an expert in engaging consumers in their health care. She is the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.