A person’s ethnic and cultural heritage is influential in shaping attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors about many aspects of life, including health care. When you’re looking for culturally-sensitive health care and caregiving services, it’s important to find professionals who recognize, understand, respect, and respond to your ethnic and cultural convictions. Your healthcare professionals’ cultural sensitivity should extend to the manner in which they communicate and build relationships with you and your loved one.
To find the best possible healthcare and caregiving professionals with staff and services that address your cultural beliefs, you should ask questions of prospective providers. Through a question-and-answer session you can learn first-hand about a healthcare professional’s communication skills, and their desire and ability to create a trusting relationship with your loved one. You can also get insight into whether or not their diagnostic and treatment plan will be culturally sensitive (for example, allowing candles or incense in a hospital room). This interaction get can help you decide if this healthcare provider or service is the right one for you or your loved one. You may have to pay for this appointment, but it may be a good use of money if it makes you feel more comfortable.
HelpEnsure Open, Culturally-Competent Communication Skills
Here are some tips to help you get a feel for the people who will be helping provide care to your loved one:
- Ask if they speak your loved one’s language or if a staff member is available as an interpreter/translator. Tell them what language is spoken most often among family and friends
- Try to judge if staff members are good listeners—paying attention to the patient’s concerns and providing answers to questions. Even the behavior of the people answering the phone can give you clues.
- See if care options can be provided to fit with your loved one’s cultural beliefs.
- Talk about how your loved one communicates his/her feelings and concerns—physically, verbally, and emotionally.
- Talk about which family member(s) should be included in discussions about the patient’s condition/disease and subsequent treatment.
- If, in your particular situation, it is important to have a male family member present—either the head of the household or another male member— mention this to the physician.
- Talk about whether the patient prefers to discuss his/her diagnoses, test results, and treatment options with or without another family member present.
Help Establish a Better Patient/Provider Relationship
- Ask the healthcare professional who will or can be present with your loved one in the examining room (particularly when cultural beliefs guide how the human body is touched).
- Ask how this healthcare professional and staff feel about having second opinions provided for your loved one’s condition or disease.
- Discuss whether your loved one and family view a physician as an authority figure. Some people may be afraid to be honest about their symptoms, health conditions and/or treatment options if they think the doctor will “judge” them or share such info with the family.
- Discuss what steps are needed to make your loved one emotionally and physically comfortable in the presence of a physician or caregiving team.
Approach to Diagnosis, Treatment & Care
- Talk about your loved one’s cultural beliefs regarding the condition or disease.
- See if culturally-competent psychiatric care is available, if needed, to help communicate with your loved one about the implications of their beliefs on treatment and care.
- Let your loved one describe symptoms in his/her own terms; if they cannot, or are unwilling, let the health professional know this.
- Try to get your loved one talk about what the disease or condition means to him/her—because sometimes, people believe they “deserve” the illness or are being punished.
- Talk about whether your loved one believes eating or not eating certain foods will improve his/her condition.
- Talk about how your loved one will respond if they are given a prescribed therapy plan. Will they accept it, and will they follow it? Will they be truthful when asked if it’s being followed?
- Talk about how your loved one feels and reacts in social situations which can affect treatment options, such as group counseling vs. one-on-one sessions.
Creating culturally-sensitive care is more than locating professionals, staff, and resources who speak your language. Recognizing and responding to cultural beliefs and their implications are important and, when they’re understood and respected, can influence your loved one’s behavior and potentially result in more positive outcomes.