We’re Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by Providing Better Access to Diabetes Care

September 21, 2023

Developing a Variety of Strategies to Promote Equitable Care

Hispanic Heritage Month is about celebrating the history and presence of Latinx people communities across the country. Beginning September 15 and lasting until October 15, our team at Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) celebrates the presence and achievements of our Hispanic employees, patients and communities and highlights, their vast contributions to our society and to our BILH community. Our Latinx patients and employees and their family have roots in Latin America and in the United States, and their diverse cultures, history, skills and tradition enrich our state. Latinx people now make up over 12% of Massachusetts residents.

To provide high quality care, we continuously adapt our approach to match the needs of our BILH patient community. Latinx in Massachusetts experience high rates of diabetes, as do several other groups. A thoughtful and culturally tailored approach to diabetes is an important component of good care. BILH has developed a variety of strategies to promote equitable care, which we have piloted at five primary care practices.

  • Bilingual health navigators: Health navigators are a growing part of our team that help address barriers to care. Our health navigators and population health specialists help patients access care. If patients need transportation, we help arrange it. If they’re facing housing insecurity, we help patients connect with community resources.
  • Pharmacists: We are integrating pharmacist expertise and consultation into primary care and in some specialty services. Pharmacists help patients learn more about the medications that may best treat their diabetes and other metabolic conditions.
  • Resource allocation: Our teams have expanded access blood pressure monitoring cuffs, glucose monitoring devices and other resources that are essential to manage diabetes and cardiovascular health.
  • Medical Legal Partnership: We are piloting free legal support to low-income patients, beginning at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). Medical-legal partnerships are an innovative way to integrate free legal support into clinical settings. The collaboration will expand BILH's ability to address health equity and expand access to health care for patients living in under-resourced communities. Learn more.

Most importantly, we make sure that patients can speak to staff members in their preferred language. Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings and misdiagnoses. By providing services in the languages patients are most comfortable using, we can better understand their health needs and build treatment plans that are right for them.

Promoting Language Access and Culturally Appropriate Care

Language access and culturally appropriate care is vital for ensuring equal opportunities and effective communication for our patients. It allows healthcare providers to deliver quality care that respects and understands the diverse cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences of their patients, leading to improved health outcomes and patient satisfaction.

“Seeing Latinx patients in primary care and getting to build relationships with them and take care of their families over time is deeply rewarding,” said Amy Dushkin, a nurse practitioner at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The Latinx population is not a monolith, and I learn from patients about their culture and how they navigate the world on a daily basis.

“Patients often feel a deep sense of relief when a clinician is able to communicate with them directly in their language and help coordinate their care. This helps to build trusting relationships between patients and clinicians. Understanding a patient’s culture and background helps provide more individualized care.

“For example, I manage many patients with diabetes who have simply been told in the past to ‘stop eating rice.’ But by having a deeper understanding of cultural norms, I can help provide counseling that will play a meaningful role in their lives.

“It is deeply meaningful when I see a patient and they bring their mom, husband or sibling to come see me. I also get to work with an excellent team of medical assistants, physicians, nurses and administrative assistants who speak Spanish and work collaboratively to provide excellent care and care coordination.”

It Takes a Village to End Health Care Inequity

We are tracking our progress by making sure we understand who are patients are and how they are doing. Our clinics and staff, our analytics team, our DEI team and researchers all help understand what we are doing well and what are new areas of opportunity.

We have invested in bringing on teams of evaluators and other personnel with the requisite expertise to guide decision making. They form part of a much bigger infrastructure that ensures we are doing everything we can to move the needle.

Preliminary Results Are Promising

Early data findings suggest that we’re already seeing progress. We have seen improvements in diabetes care across BILH and across race and ethnic groups. Our Latinx patients with diabetes have seen important improvements in their blood sugar levels, reflected in fewer patients with hemoglobin a1c levels above nine. We are seeing many more Latinx and Black patients on the appropriate therapy to protect their cardiometabolic health.

We know that the journey to health equity is long, and eliminating disparities in diabetes care requires engaging our entire organization and community. But we are committed to taking deliberate and relentless action in order to make measurable progress across our entire network.