Health Information Delivery Gap

By Lauren Mills

On July 25 we attended a meeting for the maternal health group at the 24 de Diciembre medical center. The maternal health group is a result of the clinic’s recent efforts to increase the amount of health education andpromotion in the community. The meeting focused on topics that stressed the importance of proper prenatal care, dental health and mental health for pregnant women. There were three main speakers that presented on one of the topics listed above. All the women in attendance were Panamanian and so too were the nurses, physicians and staff that spoke, yet I couldn’t help but notice a bit of a disconnect between thegroup delivering the information and the group receiving the information. It was very apparent that the women in attendance did not understand all of the information being presented, as it incorporated a lot of technical, medical language.

The health information delivery gap that I observed in the maternal health group meeting lead me to a question from PM 508 the night before where we were asked, “Is increasing the (racial) diversity of the health care workforce a necessary strategy for reducing disparities inpopulation health?” In other words, will patients having physicians of their same race, culture and ethnicity have an impact on reducing health care disparities within that community. I sat there thinking about this question we had debated the night before and the types of presentations that I was observing in the maternal health group meeting the next day. This experience showed me that it is not enough to just have physicians of the same race and culture as their patients to make a difference in reducing health care disparities. Physicians also need to pay attention to their audience and make adjustments for reading level, avoid using technical language and constantly double check to ensure that patients are understanding the information being delivered about their health. Here I am sitting in this meeting where I do not share the race, culture or ethnicity of the patients or physicians but Iwas able to follow along with the physicians better than their target audience solely due to the fact that I was able to understand their medical jargon.

Attending this meeting showed me first hand that while a physician sharing the same race, culture and ethnicity as their patient may improve patient-physician communication; they still must do the little things correctly so their patients can leave with a clear understanding of their health needs. If your audience cannot follow along and comprehend the message being delivered, a shared racial, cultural and ethnic background will not be enough on its own to improve comprehension of health information.

About the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. This post was excerpted from panama.usc.eduView all posts in this series »