Unique Challenges Confront Physicians Treating Latinos

Primary care physicians who treat Latinos are less likely than those treating primarily Caucasian patients to believe they can provide high-quality care. This is due to inadequate time with patients, patients' lack of ability to afford care, patients not adhering to recommended treatments, and difficulties in communicating, according to recent research.

Primary care physicians who treat Latinos are less likely than those treating primarily Caucasian patients to believe they can provide high-quality care. This is due to inadequate time with patients, patients’ lack of ability to afford care, patients not adhering to recommended treatments, and difficulties in communicating, according to recent research.

The study, which appeared recently in Health Affairs, used data from the 2008 Community Tracking Physician Survey, a nationally representative sample of US physicians that included demographic information and patient characteristics.

“From this survey, we analyzed physicians’ self-reported ability to provide high-quality care to Latinos and compared it to that of physicians treating primarily whites,” Arturo Vargas-Bustamante, PhD, said in a statement. He is an assistant professor of health services at the UCLA School of Public Health and lead author of the study, which he conducted with Jie Chen, PhD, an assistant professor at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.

“We wanted to understand the challenges that providers face in delivering high-quality care to underserved populations,” Vargas-Bustamante said. “Overcoming such challenges will be critical to ensure that the insurance expansion under the Affordable Care Act will succeed in providing better health for all.”

Latinos differ from other minority patients due to their socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, as well as their patterns of health care access, use, and spending, Vargas-Bustamante said. Physicians’ perceptions of the quality of care they deliver are likely to be influenced by these factors.

At more than 15% of the US population, Latinos constitute the largest ethnic minority group in the country, Vargas-Bustamante said. The Affordable Care Act of 2010, he added, is likely to benefit larger proportions of minority individuals, particularly Latinos, who currently experience the highest uninsurance rate across racial and ethnic groups.

The researchers’ findings were disturbing, Vargas-Bustamante said, because physicians who primarily treat Latinos don’t feel they can provide high-quality care. But in addition to the problems specific to Latinos, physicians must still deal with all the common problems of providing health care regardless of ethnicity, including insurers’ rejection of claim decisions, medical errors, a relative lack of available specialists, and the lack of timely transmission of reports among physicians.

The Affordable Care Act can potentially address some of these quality challenges if and when it is implemented, Vargas-Bustamante said. “An increased supply of medical personnel, for example, would allow primary care physicians to allocate more time to patients and improve follow-up. Also, more cultural competence will come from the strengthening of primary care providers, which would address problems with communicating and in improving treatment compliance.”

SourcePhysicians Treating Latinos Have High Hurdles to Jump, Study Shows [UCLA]