A post at Lao Voices had me thinking about Laotians and their health. Since my little brother is a clinical pharmacist I asked him several questions about health care and health plan in regards to Laotians, illegal immigrants and the Hmong refugees. My brother worked at a low-income clinic (CUHCC) in Minneapolis for two years. He had many Laotian patients and Hmong who were on Medicare or Medicaid. Most of them were laborers with very limited income and education. Some of his patients were lucky to bring interpreters with them to the clinic so they can communicate with the doctors. Fortunately, for many Laotians, my little brother was able to speak Lao so they could ask him questions about meds or their illnesses. He was the first Lao doctor they saw at that clinic and they were grateful that they had someone who could understand them. When my brother told me this, I started thinking about why the older generations of Laos people do not take better care of their health. The answer is quite simple to me: lack of education, cultural beliefs, and language barriers.
I notice that some of my parents’ generation lack education when it comes to their health as compared to my generation. Some older Laotians wait until they are very sick or they wait so long to go see a doctor that it has adverse effects on their health. For example, my mom complains about her leg or her back or her high blood pressure, but when we tell her to go see a doctor so she can get medication she always answer, ” If I’m going to die then I’m going to die, who cares?” Then my brother would explain to her what she can take and do to alleviate those symptoms. Most of the time she simply ignores his advice and would rather complain. I think this parallels a health care quiz I read on Lao Voices about how “Health beliefs and practices in Laos are significantly related to Brahmanistic and animistic beliefs. As a consequence illness maybe be attributed to the loss of one of the thirty-two spirits”. Even though my mom lives in America she still holds on to those cultural/ religious beliefs which at times becomes a big obstacle in her taking better care of herself. It can be frustrating for many people when they have friends or relatives who needlessly suffer from ailments that can be cured or alleviated through education.
I asked my brother what are Laotians like as a patient? His immediate response is, “They are non-compliant!” He explains that many Laotians do not take their medication as it is prescribed because they do not like to take pills so they would only take it when they feel they need it. Then they would complain that the medication does not work. When he drills them about how often and when are they taking it, he discovers that they are not even following the instruction. For example, they would take only one pill a day versus three a day as recommended. Sometimes they do this because since the pill is so expensive they try to make it last longer by only taking the minimum. There are also cases where the patient would take too much because they think that it will help them feel better. They do not understand that the recommended dosage is there specifically to treat the ailments and it must be followed in order for the medication to work effectively and to reduce the amount of harmful side effects.
It is understandable that some Laotians can not or do not follow the instruction because of language barrier. Even some of us who are proficient English speakers have problems either following the instructions or understanding how some meds work because of all the confusing medical terms. However, we can at least question our doctors or pharmacist and ask them to break it down in simple terms where we can understand. Imagine if you do not know any English or just know the basic, would it not be frustrating to try to communicate with your caretaker? This is what some Laotians face unless they are fortunate to have an interpreter with them or their doctor speaks the same language.
We need to educate Laotians about their health so they can take better care of themselves.