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Facing the Challenges of Health Literacy in the Latinx Community

November is recognized as National Health Literacy Month. The month is designed to draw attention to the importance of health literacy and barriers that people face when accessing or understanding health information.

What is health literacy? According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, “health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

While many different populations face challenges when it comes to understanding often-complex health information, it’s a particular challenge for the Latinx community, which faces both a language barrier and cultural differences as related to healthcare.

“When it comes to health literacy, Spanish-speaking Latinos are twice as likely to report poor health outcomes,” says Paulo Hutson Solórzano, Latinx Outreach Consultant with Cempa Community Care. “And 74% of those who are Spanish-speaking have less than adequate health literacy, compared with 7% of English speakers.”

This problem is complex — and it starts with a language barrier. Beyond language, levels of education and lack of understanding about how the U.S. healthcare system works also pose challenges.

“As an example, when it comes to the healthcare system, a lot of people in the Latinx community don’t understand what primary care is, as compared with urgent care,” Solórzano says. “There’s no one out there educating them on these basics of healthcare. So a Spanish speaker is more likely to turn to an urgent care facility because of lack of knowledge. They’re often underinsured, and there’s also the question of whether there will be someone who can communicate with them in Spanish.”

Beyond the logistical challenges and the fears involved in seeking medical care, much of the Latinx community has a different set of cultural preferences when it comes to their health.

“Because they don’t necessarily trust in healthcare providers, they’re also more likely to turn to home remedies,” Solórzano says. “There’s a lot of superstition. They believe in homeopathic remedies to cure illnesses.”

How Cempa Is Working to Break Through Barriers
The health literacy issues facing the Latinx community are multifaceted. That means that overcoming them also requires a multifaceted approach.

“At Cempa, we work to meet individuals where they are,” Solórzano says. “This means really understanding and celebrating their cultural differences.”

Our team works to provide Latinx community members with the right information in an easily understandable and accessible way. One tangible way we work to achieve this at Cempa is by offering educational materials that can be read easily on a cell phone screen.

“We understand that 51% of Latino adults live in a cell phone-only home,” Solórzano says. “That’s their only access to the Internet. We work to make sure that all of our information is available in a mobile-friendly format, in Spanish, and in a culturally relevant way. They’re very warm and family-oriented, so instead of being straight-forward, our communications are more conversational and friendly, providing them with guidance about prevention and how to access care.”

When it comes to Cempa’s in-person services and care, careful thought goes into how providers engage this population. For one, bilingual employees are available in every department, or there is someone who can help translate.

But there’s also an added educational component.

“Health literacy is a skill,” Solórzano says. “It takes time to develop. In the American culture, we develop that skill throughout our lives. When you’re dealing with someone who hasn’t had this as a part of their upbringing, it’s important to spend a lot of time with that patient. Take your time, understand the culture, and improve communication. That’s what we’re always working toward.”

Cempa provides important health information about services and how to access care in both English and Spanish. To learn more, call (423) 265-2273.

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