The disparity of health outcomes in minorities can be attributed to many factors, including race, sex, and socioeconomic status. Loma Linda University Health physicians and professors like Karina Torralba, MD, division head of Rheumatology, are teaching the next generation of healthcare workers why the system will benefit from a more widespread understanding of these disparities and increased minority representation.
With many cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and hospital staff shortages in the United States, Torralba says the likelihood of meeting with a doctor of the same background is unlikely. This emphasizes the importance of all healthcare workers understanding the intricacies of various patient actions.
“When patients don’t show up to [the] clinic or take their medications, they could go overlooked or be dismissed as noncompliant,” Torralba says, “but when we try to learn more about patients as individuals, we can properly serve our community by carving out solutions or giving consideration to their circumstances.”
Studies show historical events of mistrust and abuse play a direct role in modern relationships between minority groups and the healthcare system. For example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study analyzed a group of African American men who were incentivized to participate but were never fully educated on the potential consequences. This deceit resulted in 128 participants dying and 59 infecting their wives and children.
“Knowing the right questions to ask and building that relationship with the patient can influence their follow-up,” Torralba says. “We are trying to teach the fellows to ask questions after learning there may be underlying factors they cannot relate to.”
Representation of minority groups within the healthcare system can also bridge the gap between discomfort and trustworthiness. Torralba says patients and hospital staff from similar backgrounds may provide cultural comfort and can comprehend norms not known to the majority populations. Torralba is Filipina and has consulted with other doctors whose patients from Filipino backgrounds may need an extra layer of comfort.
“Emphasizing diversity is not necessarily just having people of different skin color in a room. Diversity is actually about being open and understanding to different views,” Torralba says.
Language barriers can also affect the level of care. Loma Linda University Health’s Language Assistant Services are available, free of charge, to communicate information related to their condition and participate in implementing their plan of care.
Loma Linda University Health works to address and combat these disparities. To read more about topics like this, visit the Minority Health webpage.