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June 4th, 2010
06:12 PM ET

Why do Latinas avoid the doctor? Study investigates

By: Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Producer

Social and cultural factors may play just as big a role as economics in the poor health care outcomes of Latinas, a new study finds.

The small study, published in the journal Ethnicity and Disease, looked at Latinas in upstate New York found that 70 percent of the women reported delaying doctor appointments, even though nearly all  had insurance and over half had diagnoses of chronic medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

"Diagnosis should typically motivate you to seek further attention," says Janie Jurkowski, an assistant professor at the University at Albany's School of Public Health and co-author of the study. "It's really quite scary and striking to see that even with a chronic disease people are delaying care.”

Among the reasons the women listed for avoiding their doctor appointments included opting for alternative therapies, previous experience with discrimination in a clinical setting and a preference for doctors of their own race who "speak their language." Jurkowski says the cultural competence of the provider is very relevant in today's society and efforts to diversify the work force, provide interpretation services and encourage cultural sensitivity benefits everyone in the long run.

"The longer the these patients delay, the worse the outcome and the more rigorous and costly the treatment,” Jurkowski notes. “Getting people in sooner would be better for the healthcare system as whole, especially in the era of rising costs. "

Most of the participants in this study were of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, however the trend has been viewed in other Hispanic groups in the U.S., and the number of Hispanic Americans continues to rise. According to census reports, the Hispanic population is increasing at more than three times the growth rate of the total U.S. population, and by the year 2020 Hispanics will represent nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population.

"There are lot of places in this country that are seeing fast growing Latino populations, and the health care system is not ready culture-wise to respond to the growth," Jurkowski says.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.