Latinx Family Advisory Council Bridges Cultural Gaps in Health Care

Having a child in the hospital is tough on any family, but imagine if you had to navigate a hospital admission if English wasn’t your first language. That’s the case for some Latinx families. Marsha Perez, parent lead in the Department of Family-Centered Care at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, describes how the Latinx Family Advisory Council is providing input to clinicians to help bridge cultural gaps.

What is the Latinx Family Advisory Council at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health?

Marsha Perez: The Latinx Family Advisory Council started in March of 2022. The Council is a group of six English-Spanish bilingual parents who provide feedback to care teams at Packard Hospital. The Latinx Family Council meets once a month with providers requesting feedback on how to make things better for Spanish-speaking patients and their families.

Our goal is to help raise awareness of the cultural differences of Spanish speaking families and how it affects their care in the hospital. The Council members provide suggestions to staff on how to address issues or challenges these families may encounter. The Latinx Family Advisory Council is here to serve both families and providers—and we’re always available to give input or suggestions.

Why was the council created?

It was important to us to get the Spanish-speaking parents’ point of view into the care given at Packard. Many of our patients’ families are coming from different cultural backgrounds. English may not be their primary language and they may not understand how things operate in the United States – especially in healthcare. Even if the family has been in the US for some time, it doesn’t mean that they understand the language enough to communicate with providers on complex medical issues. Or maybe they can speak English, but don’t know how to read it. For those parents, a discharge summary may be scary and they might feel embarrassed to tell their providers they don’t understand.

To help in situations like this, the Council has given suggestions to providers on how to phrase open-ended questions to Spanish speaking parents and how to explain discharge instructions in simple terms with more teach-back. We want providers to convey to Spanish speaking parents that: “you are part of the team, and you can let us know what works best for you.

Have been there any changes as a result of the advisory council meetings?

All the members of the Latinx council have been very appreciative of the opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives to help others. The parents on the Council love to give feedback and be asked, “What is a better approach?” or “How do you feel about these types of challenges?” The Council has given input on how Spanish speaking parents would like to receive information prior to being admitted to the hospital. Some of our providers do speak Spanish, but we have been able to bring to the forefront the use of an iPad or phone for translation of nonmedical interactions. For instance, I worked with a Spanish speaking parent who wanted a glass of water and the nurse kept bringing water with ice. Where this parent grew up, ice wasn’t used in drinking water, but she couldn’t communicate that to the nurse. So, even though it wasn’t a medical issue and seemed like a simple thing, the language barrier affected the parent’s experience.  

We also have given feedback on MyChart and telehealth visits. The technology is great, but during my parent-mentor work I hear from families they don’t know how to use it. It could be anything from not knowing how to use a smartphone or how to download the app to not having email. A lot of Spanish speaking parents depend on family members to help them use technology. The Council is able to share these challenges with IS staff as well as care providers.

What do you hope to see in the future?

I hope we increase the understanding that each Hispanic culture has differences. For example, the Latinx Family Advisory Council recently talked about how one word in Spanish can have different meanings depending on the country. One of our providers told a story of a word he used which meant something different in another country, and the parent was confused.  We want providers to be aware of these differences.

It’s going to take time, as there are many challenges, but things are changing. The long-term goal is to be able to provide culturally competent services for both the provider and the patient, have tools like MyChart easily accessible for everybody, and resolve the gaps in language access that can cause patients and families delay and distress.


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