These natural medicines can be risky and ineffective, but regardless, Latinos often feel more comfortable using them. As a result, many Latinos have created a network of alternative health practitioners that we often trust more than Western doctors.
“There’s greater trust for what has worked for your family or what you’ve heard has worked for others in your community. So then, when Latinos have a health concern, many may think ‘Oh well, my Tia told me about this tea you can drink … ’ and that replaces Western medical advice,” says Marisa Salcines, the co-founder of Healthyhispanicliving.com, a website that aims to develop culturally relevant health content for the Latino community.
Latinos’ trust in Western healthcare diminishes even more when doctors don’t approach Latino patients in the way they expect. For many Latinos, a doctor-patient relationship needs to feel personal, welcoming, and concerned for the individual as a whole. This makes the American healthcare setting, in which doctors often rush visits and lack time to establish relationships with patients, seem untrustworthy.
“Most American healthcare deals with a kind of factory approach where you’re in and out and that’s that,” says Salcines. “But for Latinos, we value having a relationship with our doctors.”
A 2008 study that interviewed 28 Latinas about their experiences with American healthcare supported this claim. One interviewee, explaining her recent visit with a doctor, said, “I didn’t feel comfortable with him, the meeting was too short and fast … he didn’t pay attention to what I was saying, he didn’t ask me my name, and he didn’t introduce himself. He went directly to check me. It was the most uncomfortable situation.”
Twenty-six of the women said the amount of information they disclosed to their doctor depended on “developing a trusting relationship with their physician based on mutual respect.” The researchers wrote that, “for these women, their willingness to disclose information decreased if they did not sense that their physician was compassionate.”
I relate to these women’s concerns. I’ve never felt quite comfortable with most doctors’ styles, and I often leave visits frustrated that the doctor asked little about me, prescribed medication quickly, and didn’t bother getting to know more about my situation as a whole. I always mentally compare these experiences to the comfort and familiarity of my grandmother’s remedies. As a generally-healthy young adult, this is one of the reasons I feel unmotivated to apply for healthcare.
Discomfort with doctors also intensifies when the health topic is culturally taboo, like sexual health or mental illness. Latino males are almost 2.5 times more likely than whites to have HIV and Latina females are five times more likely than whites to experience teen pregnancy. Yet stigma around the subject prevents patients from talking about it. In the 2008 study of Latina women, interviewees said their culture “regarded sex as a personal, intimate issue to be discussed only with one’s partner and sometimes not even then.” During my visits with gynecologists, I am always surprised by how openly doctors expect me to discuss issues I’ve been raised to believe are private.