Language Can Endanger Care for Latinos with Diabetes


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Are you a Latino with diabetes and limited English skills?

You may be less likely to take prescribed diabetes medications than others, perhaps even if you see a Spanish-speaking doctor, a new study suggests, Reuters reports.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined 31,000 Latino and white patients with diabetes in Northern California.

diabetes boy latino smallAbout 60% of Spanish-speaking Latino patients skipped filling prescriptions at least one-fifth of the time in the two years after they were told they needed the drugs to help control diabetes, according to the research.

That was much worse than 52% of English-speaking Latinos and 38% of whites.

“Latino patients with diabetes, even when insured and facing relatively low barriers to healthcare, are much more likely to have poor medication adherence than their white counterparts,” Dr. Alicia Fernandez, study author of San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco, told Reuters.

Fernandez’s study found that diabetes medication adherence didn’t improve for Spanish-speaking Latinos even if they saw Spanish-speaking doctors.

But a separate study did find some benefits.

That study of 1,600 Latino patients found that after switching from an English-speaking doctor to a Spanish-speaking one, 74% had healthy blood sugar levels, up from 63% when they were seeing an English-speaking doctor.

“Having a primary care provider that speaks your language appears to be important for several reasons; it improves lines of communication, may reduce the risk of misunderstandings, increases patient satisfaction and now there is evidence that it may also improve management of diabetes,” Melissa Parker, study author of Kaiser Permanente in California, told Reuters.

Experts say the bottom line is to “prioritize access to Spanish-speaking doctors for Latinos with limited English who are newly diagnosed with diabetes.”

And, of course, increase the amount of Latino and bilingual doctors.

“Communication between clinicians and patients is essential in most aspects of medicine but it is especially true in management of a chronic disease such as diabetes,” Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, told Reuters via email.

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