(SALT LAKE CITY)—Navigating the U.S. health care system with a child who has cancer can be confusing and even frightening for parents and caregivers who speak English. But for those who speak only Spanish, the language barriers and other factors, including immigration status, may have an impact on their children’s care.
U of U pediatric oncologist Mark Fluchel, M.D., wanted to understand the perspectives of Spanish speakers compared to English speakers whose children had undergone cancer treatment, so he surveyed Spanish- and English-language parents and other caregivers whose children were treated for cancer at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. This week, Fluchel, an assistant professor of pediatrics, is presenting some of the results at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference:
· More than 13 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents reported delaying or avoiding care for their child because of their immigration status.
· Spanish-speaking respondents were significantly more likely to be incorrect about whether their child was in a clinical trial.
· Nearly four in 10 Spanish speakers reported feeling that the oncology staff did not understand them, while more than one in five reported falsely claiming to understand the oncology staff because they were embarrassed about not speaking English.
· Spanish speakers were more likely to feel that the potential side effects of therapy were explained less well than English speakers. But more of the Spanish speakers than English speakers were satisfied with their child’s care (both groups reported a high rate of satisfaction.)
· One-third of Spanish-speaking respondents believed their child would have received better care if English were their first language.
· There was a trend toward Spanish-speaking children to have more time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis, although this did not reach statistical significance.
“Ultimately, the most important thing physicians and nurses must do is to establish a trusting relationship with families and make sure they are comfortable with asking for clarification,” Fluchel says. “We can’t assume everything we say is being understood.”
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Science Writer , Office of Public Affairs