Friday, March 23, 2007

Healthcare Disparities and Providers Who Care

It was incredibly refreshing and inspiring to attend an open house this evening for a new Infectious Disease (ID) practice in our city of employment. In the last 25 years, the role of the ID provider has greatly expanded, taking center stage in the fight against AIDS. This particular physician, having emigrated from Puerto Rico to attend medical and public health graduate school here in the US, was struck by the disparities being experienced by her own ethnic community. This realization led her to pursue a specialization in infectious diseases, taking up the gauntlet of HIV/AIDS treatment and the stemming of the waters engulfing the Latino community.

In her presentation, the director of this organization drove home the point that disparities in healthcare vis-a-vis the care of ethnic minorities is an area requiring the utmost attention and sensitivity.The centerpiece of the presentation, other than introducing her staff, revolved around the notion that the target population---mostly HIV- and Hepatitis C-infected low-income Latinos---need culturally competent and flexible healthcare which caters to their special needs and challenges, not only medically, but also within the psychosocial and socioeconomic realms.

Low-income patients face many challenges in terms of childcare, transportation, financial constraints, social stigma, as well as disempowerment and disenfrachisement from the society at large. Complex multi-generational family structures, chronic illness, and other challenges complicate the pursuit of care for diseases as complex as Hepatitis and AIDS, and this particular provider clearly stated that her practice strives to be flexible to the patients' life circumstances which may inhibit or challenge care. Flexible visit times, allowances for late arrivals, and asistance with transportation, childcare and other psychosocial issues all pay dividends in terms of the potential for successful treatment.

As we have learned in our practice, flexibility and understanding go a long way towards fostering positive relationships between provider and patient, and it is upon that foundation that successful treatment is achieved. If a patient does not feel seen, understood, and welcomed as they are, the ability to provide holistic and comprehensive treatment is immediately handicapped and may eventually backfire. It is clear that other practices are pursuing the same laudable goals to which we also aspire, and when I feel that another provider is singing my song and walking the same path, that is indeed a heartening experience which I do not take for granted.
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