NEW YORK: Immigrants Flock To Underground Medicine
An "expansive underground health system" exists among New York City's immigrant population who often fear the city's conventional health care programs and prefer alternative medicine, the New York Times reports. Thousands of "clinics, herbalists, spiritual centers and makeshift medical offices" exist for immigrants who can't afford health insurance, are fearful of immigration officials or simply want treatment from someone who speaks their language. The treatments available at these centers vary widely, from herbal remedies to "exorcisms for patients with chronic stomach pain." Many immigrants are fearful of conventional medical techniques and prefer alternative ones. For example, Dr. Mary McCord relates that some Dominican patients fear asthma medication, while another states that some Asians refuse to have their blood drawn because they believe the procedure will weaken them. McCord indicated that understanding how immigrants use alternative centers can help physicians treat patients of different cultures more effectively. "One skill in being a doctor is to accept where people are coming from and be willing to negotiate according to their beliefs," she said.
Some medical professionals worry that alternative health care can interfere with immigrants from getting appropriate treatment -- and even pose harm. Some alternative centers offer herbal remedies that pose dangers to patients, perform unsafe procedures, or sell drugs without prescriptions. Many immigrants who eschew New York's health system because of financial concern do not know that city clinics "charge on a sliding scale based on income," which actually would make a visit cheaper than an alternative center. They also do not realize that New York has several programs for immigrants, regardless of their legality (Steinhauer, 8/20).