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INTRODUCTION

KEY POINTS

  • The increased ethnic diversity in the United States is resulting in an increase in different types of traditional medical practices and beliefs.

  • The Hispanic population in the United States will triple by 2050, representing 29% of the population; thus, practicing physicians should be aware of the traditional health beliefs and popular folk remedies used widely by this group.

  • Traditional medicine, also known as indigenous or folk medicine, is used largely by elderly Mexican Americans for chronic health problems; however, this population will often deny their attachment to these kinds of treatments due to their negative cultural connotations.

  • Curanderos, naturistas, and sanadores are lay healers who may provide healthcare services to the Hispanic community.

  • Folk illnesses, such as mal de aire and mal de ojo, are recognized in certain cultures as legitimate causes of illness.

  • Botanical remedies that are intended to cure or alleviate dermatologic conditions are the most common folk-healing products used by Hispanics.

  • Folk remedies are most often applied to treat skin conditions like acne, alopecia, and atopic dermatitis.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, medicine in the United States has borne witness to a new and unique challenge—physician practices have become more complex because providers have to care for patients who belong to an ever-increasing range of cultural and racial groups. This growing complexity has risen out of the large-scale transformations that have taken place in the U.S. population. The country’s shifting immigration patterns, along with the growth of certain geographical regions and settlements that attract a concentration of immigrant populations, have led to cultural changes in local communities that will naturally have an impact on practicing physicians.

The key minority groups in the United States, according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, are Hispanic or Latino, African American or Black, Asian American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Alaskan Native.1 Apart from the Asian group, the remaining groups are all considered to have disadvantaged status because these minorities are burdened with a disproportionate number of the nation’s poor health outcomes, which is also an example of the health disparities among populations.2,3 These disparities are preventable and the result of multiple factors, including poor access, sociolinguistic barriers, poverty, and differences in healthcare expectations.4,5 Further contributing to these disparities is a poor understanding of the traditional cultural beliefs and practices of many patients. Traditional medicine remains a commonly sought-out alternative for many patients in part due to its affordability, its correspondence to the patient’s ideology, the reduced linguistic barriers, and the patient’s dissatisfaction with the perceived results of modern medical therapies.6 Over 75% of Hispanics use or practice alternative therapies, although few patients will share this with their healthcare provider.7,8 Improving the quality of healthcare for minority patients will require improvements in the treating physician’s recognition and sensitivity to ...

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