Navigating the Health Care System

Advice Columns from Dr. Carolyn Clancy

Former AHRQ Director Carolyn Clancy, M.D., prepared brief, easy-to-understand advice columns for consumers to help navigate the health care system. They address important issues such as how to recognize high-quality health care, how to be an informed health care consumer, and how to choose a hospital, doctor, and health plan.

Hispanics are less likely to see a doctor or other health professionals regularly than other ethnics groups. The data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is startling. Half (47 percent) 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, or 33 percent, of Hispanics under age 65 did not have health insurance coverage in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another is language. Nearly half (49 percent) of Hispanics who are not comfortable speaking English do not have a regular source of health care, compared to two-thirds (63 percent) who are fluent in English, according to AHRQ data.

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 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 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 Conozca 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.

For example, one ad 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.

The PSAs 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 PSAs direct audiences to visit AHRQ's Spanish-language Web site at http://www.ahrq.gov/preguntas 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 health 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. Select to find one in your area.

Today, many hospitals, doctor's offices and pharmacies have staff who speak Spanish fluently. And many Web sites for patients, such as AHRQ's and Healthfinder.gov, offer information in Spanish.

AHRQ and the Ad Council's new campaign support the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. This represents HHS' first strategic plan to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.

Making our health system better will happen only when everyone can 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.

Resources

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Conozca Las Preguntas (Know the Questions)
Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/preguntas/

2010 National Healthcare Quality & Disparities Reports
Available at: and
http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/nhdr10/Chap9.htm

AHRQ News and Numbers: Problems with English Help Block Many Hispanics from Medical Care
Available at: http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/nn/nn032608.htm

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
Espanol: Healthfinder.gov. Su guia a la informacion confiable de la salud
Available at: http://www.healthfinder.gov/espanol/

HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities
Available at: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/npa/templates/content.aspx?lvl=1&lvlid=33&ID=285

HHS Office of Minority Health
Hispanic/Latino Profile: The Office of Minority Health
Available at: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlID=54

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FastStats: Health of Hispanic or Latino Population
Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/hispanic_health.htm

Health Resources and Services Administration
Find a Health Center
Available at: http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/Search_HCC.aspx

Current as of June 2011
Internet Citation: New Public Service Campaign Urges Hispanics To Talk With Their Doctor. June 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/060711.html