As Medicare and Medicaid increasingly move away from fee-for-service payments, healthcare systems and providers must adapt to alternative models that include financial risk. However, those costs aren’t spread out evenly among the patient population. Just 5% of Medicaid recipients make up 54% of the total Medicaid expenditure, for example.

While this subset of beneficiaries, known as “super-utilizers”, are a heterogeneous group, the elderly and ethnic minorities of all ages are more likely to fall into this category. African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians/Native Alaskans, in particular, are disproportionately impacted by chronic illness, which translates into higher healthcare costs.

Yet this problem is only going to get bigger. According to a Georgetown University Health Policy Institute study, 1 in 5 U.S. residents will be elderly by 2050. And racial and ethnic minorities will make up 35% of the elderly population.

As the U.S. population ages and becomes more diverse, it’s essential that healthcare providers adapt to patients’ needs to improve care and reduce expenses. That starts by addressing the socio-economic and cultural issues that prevent patients from receiving preventive care, and leaves them resorting to emergency care instead.

Here’s a look at three major reasons why different groups may avoid routine care, and how cultural competence can help healthcare providers address these challenges.

Cultural Barriers to Primary Care

While racial and ethnic minorities are less likely than whites to have a primary care physician, the problem runs deeper than lack of access. A Pew Hispanic Center study found that 45% of Latinos who didn’t seek medical care have health insurance. This is likely due, in part, to cultural differences surrounding treatment options. According to a 2013 Colorado survey, 45% of Latinos reported that they rely on home remedies to avoid medical costs.

Culturally-relevant outreach that includes information about the importance of primary care in conjunction with home treatments and holistic options can improve patient outcomes. That’s because acknowledging patients’ preferences can improve adherence to professional recommendations and prevent unnecessary emergency room visits.

Lack of Cultural Understanding Among Providers

When racial and ethnic minorities receive care, they report lower levels of participation with their own treatment as well as lower levels of satisfaction. Rushed office visits with little time to established a personal patient-doctor relationship often run counter to what patients from other cultures expect. Latinos, for example, are particularly sensitive to this lack of personalized care. Many report feeling uncomfortable during visits because of their provider’s inability to take the time to relate to them as individuals. This makes providers seem untrustworthy, which deters Latinos from scheduling routine care.

Hiring staff with diverse backgrounds may help patients feel more comfortable during visits. Training programs that increase cultural awareness may also help staff address patient concerns and provide higher quality care. Think Culture Health, a website featuring continuing education opportunities, resources, and more is a great place to get started. Launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it provides guidance on offering culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLASS).

Language Barriers

More than 37 million U.S. adults speak a language other than English. However, approximately 18 million (48%) report speaking English less than “very well, the study reported. These language barriers lead to lower quality care, less patient satisfaction, and a lower adherence to provider recommendations, which can lead to higher emergency care use.

Lack of access to an interpreter is a major cause for avoiding routine care. Less than half (48%) of limited English-speaking patients who needed an interpreter reported that they always or usually had one.

Providing access to a professional interpreter through video remote interpreting will help ensure patients can comfortably communicate with healthcare providers during office visits. Providers can also facilitate remote linguistic support via over-the-phone interpretation.

How CQ Fluency Can Help

Becoming culturally competent is a career-long process for healthcare providers. Fortunately, CQ fluency can provide the linguistic and cultural support you need to improve patient care.

We not only understand the importance of preventive care, but we also partner with healthcare organizations to develop multicultural outreach campaigns. Once such campaign involved teaming up with one of the country’s largest health plans to promote at-home tests for colorectal cancer. We developed culturally relevant messaging that would resonate with African Americans and Hispanics, two groups that are disproportionately affected by the disease.

From interpreting services to cultural adaptation of outreach campaigns, our team is ready to help. Contact us today to discuss your language needs.