The Latino community has a unique view of illness that defines their approach to healthcare in a manner that the current industry may not be prepared to deal with just yet. Generally speaking, the Latino patient takes a more passive approach to illness prevention and treatment and turn to their people before the medical community for treatment alternatives and medical advice. They are also one of the most digitally connected populations in the United States. As the eve of the Affordable Healthcare Act draws near, these two unique characteristics present an impassable opportunity for the industry to step up to the plate and develop innovative, culturally competent, and cost effective ways to accommodate this traditionally underserved but rapidly growing population.
Latino culture is not monolithic, not all Latino patients will experience our healthcare system the same way, have the same difficulties, or concerns. However, there are a few traits that are common across Latino cultures that affect the way patients view illness and approach treatment and prevention. Certain ailments are not seen as medical emergencies; overweight children are seen as a sign of health and depression is seen as a weakness to overcome rather than an illness in need of professional help. Preventative measures are not commonly taken since falling ill is believed to be an act of God and when treatment is sought home remedies from local shops (botanicas) and local doctors (curanderos) are consulted before medical professionals.
Social media can help the medical field meet Latinos halfway in terms of preventative care. Latino internet usage has exceeded 30 million users. Latino users spend more time online than in any other medium and are avid social networkers. Latinos trust their community even more so than doctors. This Health Exchange is an opportunity to find the middle ground between the community as a resource and the medical profession as a resource. Insurance companies and healthcare providers must make resources readily available in a digital and mobile format. Latinos will then know what medical resources are available locally. It is also a way to make preventative resources more ubiquitous. Social media is the perfect tool to get the community talking and help make sense of the new Healthcare law. The Latino community online can be a front line to direct newly insured patients to local medical services.
By creating culturally competent bilingual programs for the Latino community online the healthcare industry can work together with Latinos to make the most of the Health Exchange. It is to the advantage of insurance companies and managed care associates to accommodate Latinos for the sheer size of the market and its buying power. It is important for healthcare providers to begin closing the information gap so as not to be overwhelmed by the large number of newly insured Latinos who will need help navigating the system to fully take advantage of the treatment they need.