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Influence of Language and Culture in the Primary Care of Spanish-Speaking Latino Adults with Poorly Controlled Diabetes: A Qualitative Study

We examined the role of language and culture in the interactions between Spanish-speaking Latino patients with poorly controlled diabetes – a fast-growing population in the United States – and their primary care providers. We conducted four focus groups with 36 non-US born Spanish-speaking patients with elevated HbA1c. Participants were insured health plan members with either English-speaking (2 groups) or Spanish-speaking (2 groups) primary care providers. Moderated discussions focused on visit preparation, communication during visit, and role of other care team members. Key themes derived from these discussions were then linked to corresponding Latino cultural constructs. Patients had a mean age of 57.9 (±11.2) years and last measured HbA1c was 8.6% (1.5%). Two communication-related themes (reluctance to switch providers and use of intermediaries) and two visit-related themes (provider-driven visit agendas and problem-based visits) emerged from our analyses. These themes reflected the cultural constructs of confianza (trust), familismo (family), respeto (deference), and simpatía (harmonious relationship). Trust in the patient-provider relationship led many participants to remain with English-speaking providers who treated them well. Patients with either language concordant and discordant providers reported reliance on family or other intermediaries to close communication gaps. Deference to physician expertise and authority led to visit expectations that it is the doctor’s job to know what to ask and that visits were intended to address specific, often symptom-driven problems. Spanish-speaking Latino patients’ cultural expectations play an important role in framing their primary care interactions. Recognizing culturally influenced visit expectations is an important step toward improving patient-provider communication.

Authors: Zamudio CD; Sanchez G; Altschuler A; Grant RW

Ethn Dis. 2017 Fall;27(4):379-386. Epub 2017-12-07.

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