WASHINGTON – Dr. John Nelson almost lost a patient in translation.
A Bosnian woman needed to have an emergency Caesarean section to save her unborn child. Only after trying three different languages,was the staff of the Salt Lake City medical facility able to let her know what was going on.
At a press conference Monday,Nelson,president of the American Medical Association,and representatives of several medical groups announced that the Commission to End Health Care Disparities would launch several efforts to prevent similar problems.
Nelson described how doctors can be culturally or ethnically out of touch with their patients. He used the word “once” as an example to both amuse and shock the 50 or so listeners. In English,it means a single dose,but in Spanish,“once” means 11.
Proportionally,blacks are more likely to die from diabetes and AIDS than whites,according to 2002 statistics. Dr. Elena Rios,president of the National Hispanic Medical Association,said the same is probably true for Hispanics,which not all doctors may realize.
“We are getting calls from the Southeast saying that we need more Spanish-speaking physicians,” Rios said. As a response,her association is seeking to enroll more Hispanic students in medical schools by trying to place more Hispanics on admission boards.
The commission already has 30 participating schools and associations of physicians and nurses that want to end disparities in health care. They are interested in training medical professionals and students to be more culturally competent,Rios said. Most associations come from areas where there are large minority communities,such as Florida,California and New Jersey.
The commission will approach its goals in two main ways: bringing more minority doctors in and making all doctors sensitive to all ethnicities and cultures.
Approximately 300 black students enrolled in medical schools in 2000,which means only 300 black doctors will soon enter practice,said Dr. Randall Maxey,who spoke for the National Medical Association,which represents African-American physicians.
Statistics on the Web site of the Association of American Medical Colleges show that last year blacks and Hispanics each made up about 7 percent of medical school enrollment.
Nelson said it will take 20 years to bring in new doctors who are more representative of minority groups,the length of time for today's high school students to get through college and their medical training.
That makes it important for today's doctors to communicate better with their patients,through cultural training for practicing doctors and nurses that will be sensitive to patients' ethnicities.
“African Americans start to feel more comfortable through touch,” Maxey said. A doctor who keeps his hands behind his back will not communicate well with most black patients,he said.
“You must do things to the patient that will engender them to trust,so that they will comply with the treatment plan that the doctor prescribes,” Maxey said.