The importance of integrating cultural sensitivity in healthcare

The importance of integrating cultural sensitivity in healthcare

Most people, when asked about their gut reaction to being approached by someone adorned with a white coat or medical scrubs, will report feeling uneasy or straight up afraid. Waiting to hear whether that suspicious mole on your shoulder needs to be cut out or having to turn your head and cough understandably makes patients anxious.

Throughout the years of having these dread-inducing encounters with white coats, we have been conditioned to associate that tell-tale smell of antiseptic with feelings of apprehension and distress. To help alleviate some of this stress, physicians are often trained to provide patient-centred care by putting forth a comforting and approachable persona and listening closely to the patients concerns. While greeting a patient with a warm smile and a genuine, “what can I help you with today?” may ease that knot in your patient’s stomach, understanding the culturally sensitive way to approach each case will undoubtedly make your patient feel a whole lot more comfortable.

So, what is cultural sensitivity?

And, why is it important to implement it in health care? Cultural sensitivity can be defined as an understanding of and respect for a patient’s values, beliefs and identity. By being aware of how to appropriately address and treat individuals of differing ethnicity, religions, socioeconomic statuses and sexual orientations, patients will be more likely to interact with physicians, allowing for a more comprehensive history and examination to be carried out, ultimately resulting in the administration of higher quality care.

Furthermore, by establishing a more stable foundation on which patient-doctor rapport can be built, patients are less likely to feel that apprehension or may feel it to a lesser degree, meaning they’ll be more inclined in the future to get that mysterious lump checked by a physician or to finish their cycle of antibiotics, as instructed.

Australia, being the cultural melting pot that it is, is in need of culturally conscious healthcare personnel and as such, emphasis must be placed on educating physicians about the differences that different groups within Australia possess.

Furthermore, teaching them how to provide healthcare to all these different people in a way that is considered respectful and considerate by each societal subgroup is of great importance. Ultimately, being able to care for all Australians from our First People to our newest people should be a priority and medical programs must reflect this necessity. Currently, medical ethics is a subject that is emphasized in schools and while cultural awareness may be included in such programs, it is often covered in a single lecture with a few multiple choice questions to examine a student’s proficiency in the area. This is undoubtedly not conducive to producing culturally sensitivity physicians and ultimately, for competence in culturally diverse situations to be obtained, cultural sensitivity training must be an interwoven aspect of clinical training and problem-based learning scenarios.

Students must not be able to disregard cultural sensitivity as an inconsequential unit that will be assessed once and will then be forgotten; it must become an integral component of the checklist that describes excellent administration of care.

For schools to be able to provide superior cultural sensitivity education, programs and curriculums must be formulated with input from knowledgeable leaders of different communities who are able to provide insight into what is deemed appropriate within their cultural group.

Furthermore, for established physicians who are already practicing, cultural competence can also be achieved by implementing the aforementioned step; they too can reach out to members of different communities within their demographic and become aware of how to conscientiously approach a variety of patients. Consequently, this will not only increase the quality of care provided to patients, but will also allow an increase in patient volume and thus overall income for physicians who have built a reputation for being respectful and empathetic.

The importance of understanding culture

To better understand the idea of approaching a patient with cultural sensitivity, a contemporary Australian example that refers to Indigenous Australians will be discussed. For Aboriginals, accessing or seeing those who have passed is a central component of their culture and is considered normal. This differs considerably from Western culture in which a paranormal or supernatural connection or experience may be more likely considered a result of substance abuse or pathology. Therefore, in a situation where an Indigenous patient may refer to having had an encounter with a family or community member who has passed, it is imperative that the physician practice cultural sensitivity and does not conclude that the patient is experiencing a hallucination or delusion of some sort, without further assessment.

Finally, while culture is most often associated with ethnic customs and traditions, cultures surrounding sexual and gender orientations have become increasingly discussed in mainstream society within Australia.

To conclude, to ensure quality patient care, just ask for the preferred pronoun or ask appropriate questions in order to try to alleviate some of that uneasiness that grips most patients as the sound of the exam table paper crinkling fills the room.

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Rayan Mourad

Rayan Mourad

Rayan Mourad is an undergraduate student at the Macquarie University in Sydney Australia and will shortly be entering Medical School. In the medical field, she is passionate about patient welfare and increasing the equality for all within the Australian medical system.