I have now reached the halfway point of my research trip and have been so fortunate to not only have been met with a high level of interest in my project, but also to have had the honor of meeting so many different people and learning about a variety of programs and services offered for the Latino population. In previous posts, I have spoken about the difficulties, linguistically and culturally, in regards to accessing a healthcare system in another country. I have also described the challenges that different systems can present to newcomers. During this trip, I have enjoyed taking the opportunity to speak with some of the clinics and hospitals about how they are confronting these challenges. The responses have varied from relying solely on interpreter phone lines to implementing new programs and initiatives directed towards caring for this population. In this post, I will highlight one program that I found of particular interest and promise which also happens to be similar to one in which I worked in the past.
While working in a large medical center in North Carolina, I participated in a program directed at helping Latino immigrants understand and better access the services available to them . We also were attempting to prove that having this program not only resulted in better health outcomes but also cost savings for our medical center. Though we were able to prove this, due to various reasons, the study was never published. However, another program in South Carolina connected with the University of South Carolina has created a similar program, though better structured, and is implementing it with great success. This is the “navigator program” taking place in Columbia and the surrounding area.
The purpose of the navigator program is to help connect Latinos with community resources and health services. Though they also can serve as interpreters when needed, that is not their main role. As an example of their work, suppose a medical professional needs to help a new mother who cannot afford a breast pump to find one. The medical professional can direct that mother to the navigator, who already has a resource list, and can help set the mother up with what she needs. The navigator can also help new immigrants to understand the health system: when to set up appointments for vaccines, when to go to urgent care, when to see their primary care physician, etc.
Having that kind of service available to clinics is key to better meeting the needs of Latino patients. Interpreters are essential for overcoming the language barrier when medical professionals do not speak Spanish or do not know enough Spanish. They also often provide a cultural bridge between the doctor and the patient. Nevertheless, they are often limited in the involvement they are allowed to have by restrictions placed on the field. The availability of someone whose primary role is not that of a language specialist but rather that of a resource specialist complements the interpreter or bilingual medical professional role by filling other gaps. This person serves as a guide, an educator, a resource directory, and a cultural bridge. At the North Carolina medical center, we had one per clinic. However, it seems to work well in the navigator program having one person for various clinics. Though the navigator study is still in progress and not yet published, I am looking forward to seeing the results. I feel that this program can help serve as a model design for other regions with large Hispanic populations. If and when the study is published, I plan to read through it and share the results on this blog.