Latinos are more likely to ask their friends or casual acquaintances for medical advice than their doctors, according to research from the government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Almost 50 percent of adult Hispanics said they did not see a doctor 2008, compared with 29 percent of adult non-Hispanics, according to the 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report.  In addition, the proportion of Hispanics who said they had poor communication with their health providers is growing and the percentage of patients screened for diabetes and cancer is not.

In a novel strategy, the U.S. is trying to reverse that trend. The government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Ad Council has recently launched a national health campaign.

Video Credit: REVOLUCIÓN

Television, radio, print and Web ads in $30 million worth of donated advertising space will run in Latino-centric media showing people with ailments such as a bad back getting conflicting advice in places such as the laundromat and the barbershop before going to the doctor.

“Hispanics who go to the doctor and are unclear about his or her instructions should speak up,” said Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Scientific Review Officer Ileana Ponce-Gonzalez, M.D. “The lesson is that there is nothing to fear - doctors appreciate patients asking them questions if they don’t understand something.”

Fear, whether of the exam, the diagnosis or the unknown, is one reason why Hispanics have limited doctor visits. But there are other reasons.

About 33 percent of all Hispanics are uninsured, according to census data. Of those that are uninsured, half are citizens and half are not.

The resulting lack of accessibility for health care and language barriers are all possible explanations for why Latinos do not turn to medicine so easily.

The campaign called Conoce las Preguntas seeks to better Latino health practices by empowering Hispanics to ask their doctors questions. The ads direct patients to www.ahrq.gov/preguntas, which acts as a road map to a doctor’s visit. For example, it offers some possible follow up questions to diagnoses and it reminds people to be clear on how to take medications since prescriptions can be confusing if they are mistranslated.

In the first month of being launched, the campaign seems to be well received. More than 2,300 patients have opted into an SMS program where you can receive sample follow-up questions texted to your phone, an example of the trend that Latinos use mobile services more than the general market.

“I hope that this public service campaign empowers Latinos to speak up when they have questions and to more effectively communicate with their doctors so they get the best health care possible,” said Dr. Aliza Lifshitz, host of Univision radio’s weekly health show “El Consultorio de la Dra. Aliza, who participating in the campaign.

Scholars and legislators have been struggling to find ways to make an impact in the health practices of the Latino community, where obesity and diabetes affect the population disproportionately. The trend is to turn toward more culturally sensitive practices, such as this national campaign.

One effort seen more and more frequently outside of this national effort is the use of promotores, who are community members that can help bridge the gap between patients and physicians. More than $3 million in federal dollars have funded a grant to Cal State University Long Beach to expand their usage.

Another strategy is fotonovelas, which uses the Latino love of soap operas to convey health information.

Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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