For many patients, a trip to the doctor can elicit feelings of nervousness, anxiety and fear. If the reason for the visit involves a serious illness, stress levels soar even higher. Now add a language barrier that makes it difficult to comprehend what the doctor is saying or what treatment is necessary. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario for the thousands of Hispanic Americans who suffer from liver and kidney disease, a population that ranks second on the wait list for liver transplants according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). To address this problem and better serve the needs of patients, Northwestern Memorial’s Hispanic Transplant Program – the only known program of its kind in the Midwest and United States – has expanded to offer a dedicated clinic for liver transplant patients in addition to kidney, that is entirely in Spanish and tailored to the unique needs of Hispanic patients.
“The new liver clinic is an extension of the program and aims to provide individualized patient care to patients with liver disease,” said Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD, transplant surgeon and director of the Hispanic Transplant Program.
The Hispanic Transplant Program, which until now served only kidney transplant patients, was initiated in 2006 under the leadership of Caicedo in response to an unmet need in Chicago’s Hispanic community.
“The Hispanic community has a high incidence of medical conditions such as obesity, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B, all of which can lead to the need for organ transplantation, yet has historically low donation rates,” said Caicedo.
The clinic offers transplant in a culturally-sensitive manner. From the first person you speak with to schedule an appointment, to the doctors, nurses, surgeons, social workers, research coordinator and financial coordinators, all of the staff members speak Spanish. They also offer educational sessions conducted in Spanish where entire families can be present to learn about the disease and treatment options.
“Many patients want to involve the whole family in discussing their medical care, including their elders, who often are the family decision makers and most likely speak Spanish,” said Caicedo. “Customizing patient care applies not only to specific medical treatments, but also to recognizing how cultural differences affect the patient.”
Since the inception of the Hispanic Transplant Program, kidney transplants in Hispanic patients have almost doubled. The current number of living donor kidney transplants in Hispanic patients at the center is now 63 percent, which is significantly higher than the current national average of 38 percent according to 2009 UNOS data.
Caicedo hopes to continue that trend with liver transplant patients. For more information about liver transplantation, please visit http://www.nmh.org/nm/liver+disease+transplantation.