As a healthcare provider, broaching subjects on ethnic differences may not be on territory you want to tread. However, it’s an important part of providing care to your patients. Culture has a significant impact on both diagnoses and treatment options, primarily because of different social beliefs, but also because of biological factors. In order to improve the care of patients in general, health care providers should be aware of the following cultural influences.
1. Family and Community
Everyone retains certain beliefs as a result of family and community influences, especially in other countries. For example, Asians and Pacific Islanders rely heavily on their extended family. Oftentimes, the honor and interests of the family are more important than the interests of the individual. Understanding situations like this when administering health care can be very helpful in providing proper treatment.
For the truly zealous, religion is not just a hobby. It’s a way of life, and that can add barriers to typical treatments. Jews, for example, abstain from certain foods because of their religion, and therefore there will be dietary preferences to consider when outlining any sort of nutritional plan. Others may believe that their illness is an act of God and therefore refuse treatment.
3. Perspectives on Death
This is not a question about life after death or funeral rituals, but if doctors truly want to connect with and help patients, they will benefit from knowing the patients’ and families’ perspectives on dying. They will need to know the proper ways to handle end of life care and make the transition as comfortable as possible.
4. Gender Roles
Different genders will often have different beliefs regarding medical treatment. Women, for example, may request less invasive treatments to make them more comfortable. Likewise, gender roles within relationships can often play a role in hindering treatment. One partner in the relationship may be dominant and believe it’s his/her job to make all of the decisions.
5. Health Beliefs
Cultures often have different beliefs regarding health care in general. Caucasians generally have a low pain tolerance compared to other ethnicities and tend to have higher expectations regarding their physical recovery and expectations of receiving a prescription. On the other hand, those coming from a hispanic background desire quick relief, but are often less willing to trust American remedies.
6. Beliefs about Medication
As mentioned above, Caucasians have a lot of faith in prescription medication and modern treatments. Therefore, they are much more likely to take their medications as prescribed. Others cultural groups, such as African Americans and Native Americans, may doubt the need for such medication and stop taking it prematurely.
7. Responses to Medications
Perhaps one of the most important cultural influences has to do with the way a patient responds physically to medication. Some people from backgrounds other than Caucasian may not metabolize the medication correctly, causing serious complications in treatment. Caucasian patients generally tend to handle a wider variety of medications than those of other cultures do.
Broaching these subjects with your patients may be uncomfortable to begin with, but it may be the thing that saves your patient’s life and your career.
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