Diversity in Healthcare

Before discussing the relevance and ways of dealing with cultural diversity in healthcare, let’s understand what exactly culture is. In layman’s language, culture can be defined as a set of beliefs, values, behavior, languages, and customs that are common to and followed by people of a particular group, race, or country. Cultural diversity, thus, is these very things that differentiate people belonging to two different groups.

The main job of any healthcare provider is to ensure that the patient trusts him, is open to discussing his problems with him, and takes the treatment suggested by him. This will happen when the patient feels comfortable with the healthcare provider. If the patient belongs to some other culture, the only way a healthcare provider can make him comfortable is by taking into consideration the social and cultural differences between the two, during their interactions.

Managing Cultural Diversity in Healthcare

Today, in USA, there are people from Asian countries, African descents, Muslim countries, etc., living together. They are part and parcel of the diverse American society. All of them have their own ways of living, beliefs, values, etc. So, when a doctor deals with them, prior knowledge of their beliefs and culture will help him provide a better care for these patients. If the healthcare provider is equipped with knowledge of their culture, it will certainly improve his communication with the patient as well as the family. The patient too, on his part, will be able to trust such a healthcare provider, and is much more likely to continue with the treatment.

Let’s take the example of Islamic culture, and see what kind of issues can arise when a doctor is dealing with patients who practice Islam. In this culture, women should not be touched by a man who is not an immediate family member. So, if a doctor knows this, it would help him while dealing with Muslim women patients. Another practice is that people of this culture do not eat pork. As certain medicines such as insulin have pork ingredients in them, a doctor can face legal issues if he prescribes them to a practicing Muslim. However, if the doctor already has some idea of the Muslim culture, he can inform the patient about the medicine ingredients before prescribing it to him, thus avoiding such as an eventuality.

Let’s take another example, this time of the Chinese, to bring forth the relevance of cultural diversity. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a balance of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ is extremely important to maintain one’s health. Yin represents all things that are passive and cold, while yang represents activity and heat. Both these should be in balance if the ‘Qi’ or energy of the body is to be maintained to ward off illnesses. According to the Chinese, medication too can have a cold or hot effect on the body. So, when a doctor prescribes a certain medicine to them, the Chinese may not take complete medication to ‘balance’ out the yin and yang in the body. They may do this without informing their physician, and it can deteriorate their health condition. So, if a doctor is aware of the Chinese beliefs, he would be in a better position to explain to them the importance of taking the full medication as prescribed by him.

Cultural Diversity Training

As can be gauged from the above examples, cultural diversity training is of utmost importance in today’s diverse society, to get rid of all kinds of barriers to healthcare. A trained doctor is more open to the cultural differences between him and the patient. He does not try to force his treatments on them, rather, he works with them to create solutions. He is more sensitive to the needs of his patients, and does not make any kind of assumptions about them on the basis of their ethnicity or race or cultural beliefs. A trained doctor is already aware of the kind of perceptions the patients might have about his treatment, and tries to explain his viewpoint in the most logical and sensitive manner to the patient and his family. When a doctor is culturally sensitive, the patient on his part, falls in line, and is more likely to agree to his treatment.

As can be seen, understanding cultural diversity in healthcare dispels many misunderstandings and conflicts that can arise between the physician and the patient, thus, leading to reduced legal disputes and better treatment. With the doctor understanding the needs of the patients, and the patients following the treatment and getting well, knowledge of cultural diversity is a win-win situation for everybody.