Cultural Diversity and Sensitivity in Health Care

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There is a popular term you likely have encountered during your formal education: culturally competent care. To reiterate its meaning, delivering culturally competent care means that you are receptive to the viewpoint, sentiments, and circumstances of people that share common identifying characteristics and cultural practices. Even if we don’t understand or believe, we must respect the values and customs of our patients that hold true to their hearts. 

Working Through Communication Issues

Get to know your patient by way of casual conversation. If they have a name you cannot pronounce, ask them to say it for you, and ask how they like to be addressed. Ask them about their hobbies, spirituality, friends, and family. If there are language barriers don’t shy away from using the patient’s family members to translate for you. You can also communicate with body language, or even use Google translation on your phone.  

However, for any important or procedural information, it’s best to utilize your facilities interpretative services. Also, remember that assistance with translation must extend beyond the clinical encounter. If you are using interpretative services during their stay, the patient will likely need to use translation services for help with follow-up appointments, discharge instructions, and billing and insurance. Make sure they are aware of how to access language services once they physically leave the facility.

Listen, Learn

Spend some time learning about your patients’ prior knowledge of their condition. Understand that many cultures believe in eastern medicine, prayer, and other rituals, as well as western medicine. Make sure to ask specific questions about your patients’ diet and nutrition, and document any requests in the chart, so that they may receive adequate substitutions. It’s also a good idea to ask them if they are taking any medicinal herbs or supplements. 

And Finally, Don’t Make Assumptions

You may know a few characteristics that pertain to a group’s specific culture, but that doesn’t mean the individual necessarily falls into that category. Remember, providing culturally competent care means treating every patient as an individual. 

It’s important that overall, patients feel respected and confident in those who are caring for them. It’s comforting for patients to feel that they can express themselves confidently without feeling there might be negative consequences or disapproval. Providing culturally competent care is a skill that must be practiced and developed over time and will help to build health equity among all racial groups. 

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