Connecting with your Latino patients and their family
Latino patients and family
Let’s look at general aspects to take into account concerning the Latino patient as opposed to the Anglo patient.
Naturally, we are well aware that each individual is different, and we wish to avoid over-generalization. However, cultural differences simply do exist and are a fact of life, and it helps to be aware of them to avoid unwittingly offending a patient.
Within the Latino culture the extended family plays an extremely important role and the family tends to be very close-knit. A patient may often be accompanied by other family members for moral support, due to cariño (affection), or merely out of habit. The “Anglo” healthcare professional may feel somewhat overwhelmed by this, perhaps even a bit frustrated, but there is no need to feel so. It is fairly customary.
Latinos also tend to be more expressive with feelings, hand gestures, and body movements, in general, often touching one other in an affectionate or soothing manner, mentioning one another’s names frequently within a conversation (a lovely personal touch), and/or often standing together at a much closer proximity than, for example, Anglo speakers would without feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
The Spanish language, which is reflective of the Latino culture and vice versa, also observes more formal courtesies than does the mainstream culture in the United States. When meeting, greeting, interviewing, and leave-taking within the Hispanic culture, it is extremely important, customary, and courteous to shake hands. Formalities and courtesies are stressed, while political correctness is not a recognized concept. Although hand shaking (especially if there are several people in the room) appears to be a time-consuming gesture, especially when time is limited, in the long run it will be faster and more efficient to do so. The consult will run more smoothly as some rapport will have been established.
During Covid-19 and any other pandemic, obviously, no handshaking takes place. This can be replaced with a fist bump, elbow bump, a “distanced, pretend handshake”, etc. and is, as such, recommended to establish empathy.
Latino children are generally taught not to question others, especially people in authority because this is considered impolite and disrespectful. This attitude may carry over into adulthood. In the medical setting, it is not typical to ask questions or clarify points, as it is for mainstream U.S. patients. Thus, a healthcare professional may want to explain or emphasize some points a bit more or make sure all the patient’s questions are answered. Remember, great respect is shown for priests, healthcare professionals, and the elderly. Out of respect for the healthcare providers, many patients may tend to agree with everything they say, so as not to “challenge” their authority and/or to avoid wasting the doctors’ or nurses’ valuable time.
Clearly, sensitivity to and awareness of cultural dynamics can greatly improve the relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient.
Investing in the beginning with your Latino patients is key! That first interaction with your patient is a great way to build trust, which, in Spanish is called “confianza”.
In order to establish a stronger, trusting healthcare provider/patient relationship with Latinos, the following is recommended:
Attempt to speak some courtesy phrases in Spanish. A little bit goes a long way!
Let’s have a brief Spanish lesson here:
Buenos días- Good morning
Buenas tardes- Good afternoon
Buenas noches- Good evening.
Soy el doctor(a) Jones – I am Dr. Jones.
Mucho gusto- Nice to meet you.
¿Cómo está?- How are you?
Use formal address:
Señora – Mrs.
Try to pronounce patients’ names and surnames correctly.
Don’t be shy to ask how to pronounce our names. That shows that you care and are interested.
Smile, wave and speak in a warm and upbeat tone of voice (tone of voice and body language are powerful and meaningful tools).
Inquire about family or engage in small talk. This shows a more personal touch and not the “get down to business” approach, which, is considered rather rude in the Latino culture. Taking the time to chat and connect on a personal level will help your patient feel more relaxed and willing to participate.
The above tips are a great way to begin building rapport with your Latino patients!
Join us in one of our Medical Spanish & Cultural Competency courses for more key phrases and tips!