LOS ANGELES-Blue Shield of California and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have allied with LatinoCare Doctors' Network, an independent practice association of more than 600 Los Angeles-area Hispanic physicians, in order to better serve the healthcare needs of the city's growing Hispanic community.
"This marks the first time that a concerted effort between a health plan, a hospital and doctor network has been made to go after an ethnic market," said Maria Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for LatinoCare.
"It's a business opportunity, but it's also a serious attempt to improve the delivery of healthcare to a specific community," said Alonso Silva, Blue Shield's director of ethnic marketing.
Cedars-Sinai, an investor in Latino-Care's management organization, and Blue Shield say LatinoCare will expand their reach into California's growing Spanish-speaking market.
LatinoCare was drawn to Blue Shield by the HMO's ability to attract employers and aid the physician network in expanding statewide.
Blue Shield and Latino-Care are discussing joint marketing ventures to assist the IPA's growth into other geographic markets. LatinoCare plans to expand into several other California counties with large Hispanic communities and into Arizona, Florida and Texas.
LatinoCare's panel of bilingual and bicultural physicians complement the goals set by Blue Shield's newly created ethnic marketing department.
"Healthcare is coming up to speed with California's demographics," Silva said. "The same approach to healthcare is not applicable to everyone."
Gonzalez cited a study which found that in 9 out of 10 instances, Hispanics won't utilize available medical services if they can't find a doctor who speaks their language.
Established in 1994, LatinoCare became operational in mid-1995. Other HMOs offering access to LatinoCare doctors include Cigna Healthcare, PruCare of California and Universal Care. In addition to Cedars-Sinai, Latino-Care is affiliated with more than a half dozen hospitals in the L.A. area.
"We're not a separatist organization. If you have a segment of the population that doesn't have access to healthcare, then all of society suffers," Gonzalez said. "Providing medical care that is sensitive to the cultural and linguistic needs of a large segment of the population benefits everybody."
Silva added that a number of ethnic groups have approached Blue Shield about forming doctors groups. "Economic reality is forcing that," he said. "The merger mania that is sweeping the industry will carry over into ethnic marketing, and only the stronger networks will survive."