March 01, 2001

The growing Hispanic population in America demands that more Hispanics enter the medical profession to reflect this changing patient base and to best provide medical care that bridges cultural differences, AMA President Randolph Smoak, Jr. MD, said at the fifth annual conference of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA).

"The medical profession needs for more under-represented minorities to have a voice in helping shape an agenda for medicine that serves all patients, including issues regarding health parity and access to health care," Dr. Smoak said.

Dr. Smoak asked members of the NHMA to support the AMA's plan to provide coverage to the uninsured through individual tax credits for the purchase of health insurance. "Today, over 40 million Americans have no health care insurance, and of our nation's 35.3 million Hispanics, approximately one-third are uninsured," Dr. Smoak said.

He also discussed the problems of low health literacy in America. A recent survey found that 40 to 44 million Americans are functionally illiterate. Low health literacy costs billions of dollars in avoidable expenses, such as unnecessary doctor visits and hospitalizations. The AMA Foundation has made health literacy a priority through its program, "Partnership in Health -- Improving the Patient-Physician Relationship through Health Literacy."

Dr. Smoak recommended the AMA's Cultural Competence Compendium, a book that addresses cultural competence issues for physicians and serves as a reference tool for medical schools, residency programs, and individual physicians. "Increasingly, our patients have moved here from places such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Guatemala. Physicians need to understand that our nation is changing, and that to provide the best patient care, we must be very aware of the patient's culture," Dr. Smoak continued.

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