Reconstruction of Health-Seeking Behaviors: A Comparative Study of Three Asian Pacific Immigrant Groups

J.ChoiDr. Jin Young Choi is an Associate Professor within the Department of Sociology at Sam Houston State University. She obtained a Masters degree (MS) in Health Education from Ewha Women’s University in Korea, before being awarded a MPH in the School of Public Health, and then an MA and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Her research focus is on health and health care issues of underserved and unprivileged populations such as ethnic minorities, immigrants, and rural residents. Specifically, her research interests are examining the roles of social context in seeking health care services among Asian and Pacific Islanders, and the socio-environmental effects on childhood obesity in rural communities. She recently published a paper titled: ‘Reconstruction of health-seeking behaviors: a comparative study of three Asian Pacific immigrant groups’ in the journal Qualitative Health Research.

Background of the study

My interest in immigrant health care began from my personal experience as an immigrant and bilingual staff member in an immigrant health center. I recognized the importance of contextual factors, as well as individual socioeconomic characteristics in determining immigrants’ health care experiences in the United States. This led me to study how health-seeking behaviors of immigrants are reconstructed and shaped during the early adaptation process of immigration by comparing the experiences of three Asian-Pacific immigrant groups in Hawaii – Filipinos, Koreans, and Marshallese.

Findings

All three groups of new immigrants experienced notable changes in their health-seeking behaviors, but in different ways. Koreans, who had universal health care, experienced a dramatic decrease in seeking both primary and preventive health care after they immigrated to the United States. Conversely, Filipinos and Marshallese, who had limited access to professional health care in their home countries, increased their health-seeking behaviors. Coupled with individual characteristics (e.g., age, gender, education level, and insurance status), the social context of the host country such as health care system, immigrant health policy, resources of ethnic community and individual social networks, shape different health-seeking behaviors and experiences across groups.

Implications

Most immigrants experience similar difficulties in seeking health care after immigration, but these difficulties often stem from different sources. Reducing the structural barriers to health insurance (e.g., restriction to public health insurance for new immigrants) would lead to timely health care for some immigrant groups, while cultural intervention and information dissemination through formal and informal social networks would be more efficient for others. Friendly immigrant health policy and the development and mobilization of health resources within the ethnic community and social networks would improve health care for economically and linguistically disadvantaged immigrants, particularly during the early stages of immigration. Tailored interventions would be a reasonable approach that would take into account the unique characteristics of each immigrant community.

About the department

The Sociology Department at Sam Houston State University is committed to high quality instruction and research, and offers Baccalaureate and Master’s degree program. Students further knowledge of social life, social change and the causes and consequences of human behavior. The Master’s program focuses on building the valuable, usable skills needed to fast forward their career including skills in research grant writing, program evaluation, impact assessment, and community-based research.