Culturally Sensitive Tips On How To Communicate With Your Latino Patients About COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, data has shown that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Latino population.

The pandemic has created great fear and anxiety in Latino families as many face language barriers and limited access to health care and health information.

We would like to address how the COVID-19 pandemic is deeply impacting the U.S Latino community and what we can do to help.  The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected the Latino community at a remarkably high rate.

Our mission at Rios Associates has always been to help you better serve your Latino patients and our goal in this blog is to provide you with the information and key cultural tips you need to better understand, communicate and most importantly support your Latino patients’ needs during these challenging times.


What explains the COVID-19 inequalities among Latinos?

  • Many Latinos live in close quarters, often multiple families to a house or farmworkers crowded into a barracks-style room, where social distancing and self-isolation are impossible.
  • We often perform jobs that require interaction with the public, in food service, transportation and delivery; or in meatpacking plants which have emerged as major hot spots.
  • We generally use public transportation.
  • We have higher rates of underlying conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension and obesity.
  • We are more likely uninsured, which, is an impediment to accessing COVID-19 testing and treatment services
  • There is a lack of information or a great deal of misinformation.
  • There are also language and cultural barriers, as well as, income and Immigration issues.

From a cultural stance, it is important to note that the Latino culture is very family oriented and as we visit one another, we display extremely open and exuberant physical affection.

Therefore, when giving Latino patients social distancing recommendations, it is helpful to lament and apologize for having to enforce these restrictions.  This confirms empathy and understanding as to how difficult it is culturally, to not be able to visit family and friends or to show physical affection through our common and expected, handshakes, kissing and hugging, which, are all very common greetings.  This may seem profuse to the non-Latino population, however, the constant handshaking, kissing on the check and hugging is all part of our daily interactions.

Another important factor to acknowledge is our conversations are generally loud, rapid, and adorned with gestures and touching.  Thus, it can be emotionally challenging to refrain from what is so ingrained in our culture.

How can we help in a culturally sensitive manner that resonates with Latino patients?

Here are some supportive ways to offer recommendations to your Latino patient population that would resonate and be well received:

  • Preface recommendations with “It is very important”, in Spanish “es muy importante” in a firm, but friendly tone. This signals to us, we should pay attention, focus, and seriously follow the recommendations.
  • Lament, or apologize for enforcing the social distancing recommendations. This signals to us a caring empathy toward us and our culture.  When discussing the recommended social distance of 6 feet, please also try to use the metric system of 2 meters (6 ft 6”), which most of us grew up with in Latin America.
  • Acknowledge the importance of touch and proximity in the Latino culture and how that can be emotionally challenging. It can be jarring and distressful to refrain from something so culturally embedded and expected, which, in turn, can have emotional and mental health repercussions.
  • Emphasize the importance of not only protecting oneself, but the entire family, particularly, our elderly family members. Latinos tend to react more positively when we hear how actions affect our family, as a whole.
  • Elicit your patient’s perspective on COVID-19 and encourage us to ask questions and address any concerns we may have.
  • With hope of a vaccine on the horizon, it is worth having that conversation with your Latino patients and addressing any questions and concerns we may have, while, reassuring and emphasizing the importance of vaccines in general.
  • If there are handouts or brochures, highlight areas you would like to emphasize or use fotonovelas, if available.
    • For those of you not familiar with a fotonovela, it is a traditional print medium found in Latin America similar to the format of a comic book, typically depicting a simple, dramatic story (or soap opera) containing a moral message.
    • A major challenge in health education and behavior intervention is reaching people with language or cross-cultural communication barriers or low literacy skills. An innovative, effective approach for healthcare providers to reach this population and change behaviors is through the use of the fotonovelas.  It truly is an excellent educational tool and has proven a successful means of communicating health information and other social-cultural issues in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.
    • If they are not readily available, you can always highlight and emphasize areas of the after-visit summary, brochures, or any other material provided.
  • Finally, if you are planning to offer telemedicine as an option, please explain what it is, how it works, as well as, address any questions or concerns we may have. Not all Latinos have accessibility to the internet, thus, it might feel like an overwhelming and stressful option.  That being said, it would be helpful to ask if we have a family member that can help connect and participate during the visit.

The above recommendations are a good start to connecting with your Latino patients and providing culturally sensitive and appropriate COVID-10 information.

For those of you planning on participating or interested in any of our CME Medical Spanish and Cultural Competency Classes, you will have the opportunity to learn specific COVID-19 related language and cultural tips, as well as, additional medical Spanish vocabulary, Spanish grammar and cultural competency tips that will assist you in better communicating with your Latino patients.

We hope this has been helpful in treating your Latino patients during this arduous time.

Please let us know if you have any comments or specifics to add.


Cuidense mucho…Stay safe and healthy!

Warm regards from Rios Associates

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