As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in a hospital setting, I am reminded every day of the important role promotores, or community health workers, play in the health and recovery of patients in our community. Promotores are invaluable partners, educators and collaborators; unfortunately many physicians, nurses, case managers, social workers, therapists and other health professionals are not aware of the expertise promotores bring, thus don’t know how to incorporate their services into the patients’ care.
Promotores are not there to challenge a health care professional’s role or medical expertise. They are there to help bridge the cultural and linguistic gap between the health care provider and the patient. As the bridge, they serve the dual role of advocating for the patient while at the same time ensuring that the patient fully understands and complies with the health care provider’s recommendations.
They ask the questions that the patients aren’t aware they should be asking or are culturally dissuaded from asking, since it is culturally inappropriate to question authority figures such as physicians or nurses. As Latinos, culturally we oftentimes nod in agreement and voice understanding even if we’re unsure what we’re being told or even if we do not agree. It goes back to the concept of challenging authority figures. Promotores help ensure that patients truly understand what is at stake and what is being asked of them.
And while promotores are not health care professionals, they are experts in their field. They are experts in the culture, language and community of Latino patients in that area as well as a connector to community resources and programs that can help patients continue their path to wellness. They are so much more than translators. Anyone can speak the language, but promotores know the cultural nuances, particularly as they relate to health care. And when a patient is in need of care, it is a time of crisis for them and those cultural nuances become very important. Promotores are also our eyes and ears in the community, so as health care providers, it would be a shame and a missed opportunity for us not to use their knowledge and expertise.
So how should health care professionals use promotores? Promotores are your partners. Rely on them. Our workload often doesn’t allow us the time or energy to fully devote all the time we wish we
could, and we often don’t have the luxury of thinking past the presenting needs of our patients to prevent them from needing to come back to us for the same or similar problems. Promotores can help
with managing patient follow ups, connecting them to additional community resources and education, and addressing the family and home needs that may impact our patients’ health and overall wellbeing.
They not only help ease our jobs but act as partners, allowing us to provide better care. They help patients feel more comfortable and connected by giving them someone with whom they can culturally and linguistically relate, which helps them to have better health outcomes. Studies from the University of Arizona, Tucson; California State University, Fresno and others show that when promotores are incorporated into patient care, access to care increases, patient compliance and follow up also significantly increase and patients become more self-efficacious and engaged in their care. A level of trust is established that allows for patients to become more comfortably involved in their care.
Promotores are relatively new in our local hospitals and community, but they are quickly becoming a much-needed resource and partner in our efforts to provide the best medical care possible to our patients. While I myself am Latina and a social worker, I have found working with them a blessing and an incredible benefit to the continuum of care we all seek for our patients. I encourage you to work with them and start seeing how they can make a difference in your role and to your patients.
If your hospital or medical clinic does not offer promotores, contact the Latino Leadership Council to learn more about how your patients can have access to this great resource.