Hispanic Thoracic and Pulmonology Program: Providing Equitable Care for Lung and Thoracic Diseases
Program Serving Patients Who Prefer to Speak Spanish
Published September 2023
To ensure equitable health care for all patients, teams across Northwestern Medicine are implementing programs that help remove barriers, and make health and wellness more accessible to everyone who seeks them.
Better Access to Culturally Competent Care Is Crucial to Better Health
This is why Diego Mauricio Avella Patino, MD, and Daniel A. Meza, MD, partnered to open the Northwestern Medicine Hispanic Program at Canning Thoracic Institute. This program focuses on patients who prefer to communicate in Spanish and offers culturally competent medical care for lung and thoracic diseases.
“Chicago and its surrounding areas are composed of a very diverse population, and there is a large population of Spanish-speaking inhabitants,” says Dr. Avella Patino, thoracic surgeon and co-lead of the Hispanic Program at Canning Thoracic Institute. “When we surveyed the landscape, we found out that there is not a program that is structured to provide attention for patients who have lung or thoracic diseases in Spanish.”
Dr. Avella Patino understands firsthand how intimidating it can be to navigate the healthcare system because he grew up in Colombia and immigrated to the U.S. That is part of the reason he was so passionate about starting this program.
“Speaking the same language provides a human touch, and we believe this program will encourage patients to seek health care sooner, complete their recommended treatments and experience better outcomes,” says Dr. Avella Patino. “Here we can offer world-class health care, but in Spanish. We can help connect patients to other parts of the health system if they need care for other conditions and offer them resources that they may not realize are available to them.”
The program provides advanced treatments for thoracic conditions such as:
- Lung and esophageal cancer
- Tracheal and chest wall tumors
- Hiatal and diaphragmatic hernias
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Lung diseases and cancer
- Diseases of the mediastinum (the area in your chest between your lungs)
And for pulmonary conditions, including:
- Long-term pulmonary disease
- Long-term respiratory failure
- Lung cancer
- Pulmonary nodule evaluation
Supporting Patients Every Step of the Way
When 45-year-old Nanci Alao of Chicago, Illinois, was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, she underwent surgery with Dr. Avella Patino to have the cancer removed. The surgery was successful, and she went home the next day cancer-free. She’s now back at work and no longer experiences pain and shortness of breath. Even though she understands English, Nanci’s preferred language is Spanish, and being able to communicate in Spanish with her medical team made the process seamless.
“My care was excellent primarily because it was in Spanish,” says Nanci. “Interpreters are wonderful, but it’s different from being able to speak with a doctor in your same language. Having everything in Spanish was the best, and I felt like I was at home.”
Every team member in the program speaks Spanish — from the thoracic surgeon, to the pulmonologist, to the patient procedure schedulers, to the front desk staff, social workers, clinic nurses and operating room nurses. From the moment you call for an appointment, you can rest assured that your care team will understand you and your needs. They can help you:
- Navigate and understand the steps of your care.
- Coordinate visits with multiple physicians.
- Better understand your condition, health and care.
- Simply undergo small or highly complex procedures.
“As the son of Mexican immigrants growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I can personally relate to having the hardship of communicating with your doctor to truly comprehend issues with your health,” says Dr. Meza, pulmonologist and co-lead of the Hispanic Program at Canning Thoracic Institute. “We want to make patients feel comfortable talking with their medical team about everything from diagnosis to treatment. Long term, I see this program being a beacon in Chicago where we have a large Hispanic population from all over the world.”