Potent Thoughts: Multiculturalism and respecting patient values in healthcare

You’re a healthcare provider, and you’re making your way through each room to see each patient.  You come across a new folder on the door for a new patient of yours.  You read the first and last name and the reason why the patient is seeing you today.  What’s the first thought that comes to your head?  It should be how to care for your patient, not a preconceived notion of their religion, race, or ethnicity.  However, many patients fear the latter and are worried that their healthcare provider will judge them.

We must identify and respect patients’ values such as religion and spirituality in order to properly care for them.  For example, a patient’s religion may prohibit them from receiving blood transfusions or consuming gelatin, which can be found in various prescription medications.  They may also be hesitant to try certain medications based on their religious beliefs.

In any given community, income and education levels can drastically vary between individuals leading to gaps in care between economic classes.  We should be mindful of insurance coverage or lack thereof, deductibles, and co-pays because if they are too burdensome for patients, they may not be able to afford the necessary care.  When communicating with patients or giving them reading materials, documents should be on a third grade reading level for ease of comprehension.  Another effective way to communicate with patients is by using the teach-back method to ensure understanding.

Additionally, gender and sexuality disparities exist in America today.  Both men and women have proven themselves to be intelligent leaders, yet sexism still exists, especially in the elderly population.  For instance, there are some elderly patients who will only be seen by male physicians.  Gaining one’s trust by informed decisions will help to overcome this boundary.

As we turn the tables on this issue, healthcare providers should be mindful of their patients to regard them with their chosen identity.  If you are unsure, ask them.  Most patients would much rather you ask rather than call them the wrong name.  Sexuality should only be asked about when necessary to appropriately care for the patient and should be asked by using gender-neutral nouns, such as “partner.”

No patient deserves to feel belittled or uncomfortable around his or her healthcare provider, yet these situations still continue to happen every day.  The chain of events is inevitable: patients become uncomfortable around their physician so they not visit them regularly, they will miss prescription refills, have their health suffer, and ultimately, their overall well-being will decline.

As healthcare professionals, it is crucial for us to be cognizant of cultural differences to serve our patients in the best way possible.  We must treat our patients as such and not as just a number.  We must allow patients to become part of the conversation of their care, for then they will be more apt to follow through with their regimens.

We are the future of healthcare.  It is up to us to give patients the respect and care they deserve.