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Putting Patients First: Factoring Culture Into Healthcare

As healthcare professionals, we strive to provide patients with the best care possible. While staying current on the latest treatment best practices is critical, it’s also important to remember that every patient is unique and requires an individualized approach to care.

Many factors influence a patient’s attitude toward healthcare, including their cultural background. Culture can impact when and where patients seek healthcare, their beliefs about health, how diseases spread, their communication preferences, adherence to treatment plans, and overall satisfaction with healthcare services. As such, understanding – and respecting – how culture impacts healthcare is crucial to reducing disparities and delivering optimal care.

In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of recognizing culture when interacting with patients and how you can optimize communication.  

Ask Questions to Better Understand your Patients 

Understanding your patients’ values is key to providing effective care that aligns with their beliefs. Asking open-ended questions can provide important insight into their views and help you determine how to best approach treatment. Some questions to ask include:

  • How do you like to make healthcare decisions?
  • What do you think caused this problem?
  • What people or things in your life influence your healthcare decisions?
  • Who should be present when we discuss your health and treatment options?
  • Are there special beliefs or customs we should keep in mind?
  • How concerned are you about your condition?
  • What do you think about this treatment plan?

Effective Communication Skills

Excellent communication is key to delivering effective care, but language barriers can create challenges that are difficult to overcome. Language barriers can make it hard for patients to accurately describe their symptoms, or to understand their diagnosis and treatment plan. Perceptions of healthcare professionals might also cause patients to misrepresent their symptoms. In these situations, it is important to have trained interpreters available to facilitate communication – they can often help healthcare providers understand the cultural nuances of their patients better. When interacting with patients through an interpreter use simple language, listen closely to patients, and ask questions to clarify any misunderstandings. Have patients describe their treatment plan back in their own words to ensure they fully understand. When possible, provide treatment information in the patient’s first language.  

Cultural Competence Training for Healthcare Providers

To improve patient outcomes and provide tailored care that meets each patient’s cultural needs and preferences, healthcare providers should consider taking cultural competence training to improve their knowledge and skills. A US study analyzing the impact of cultural competence training for healthcare professionals found that it had a positive effect and was significantly associated with increased patient satisfaction. Embracing cultural sensitivity will help create a healthcare system that supports the health and well-being of all patients, regardless of their cultural background.

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