How to Utilize Cultural Influences to Promote Health

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The medical profession demands an oath of ethics to offer services to all those in need, no matter their background. However, it need not be colorblind to do so, and respectful recognition of the different cultural backgrounds of patients and other professionals can lead to better informed and higher quality care. 

This is particularly true given today’s increasingly globalized and more populous world where more and more people, particularly those with different cultural backgrounds, are becoming increasingly connected with each other and the perennial demand for health services not only never falters but becomes ever more complex and overwhelming. The endeavor to be objective while navigating the sometimes tricky lines of intercultural communication can be difficult for those fearful of committing a cultural faux pas but seeking to provide the best care they can. Thankfully, there are many ways to utilize cultural differences and awareness to engage in better quality health services.

Understand Patient Backgrounds

One way to utilize cultural differences and awareness to provide better quality health services to patients is to recognize social differences. It’s important to keep in mind that patients may come from backgrounds with different worldviews, norms, and religions than the physician. 

As a result, strict unyielding adherence to protocol or assumptions may lead to a breakdown in communications between doctor and patient, whereas simple respect for and acknowledgment of the patient’s point of view could potentially change their mind in regards to a possibly life-changing treatment or otherwise lead to a better relationship between physician and patient. For example, a patient may come from a religious background and strongly oppose certain medications or interventions. Belittling them for their choices or attempting to coerce them into taking the treatments deemed necessary with no alternative can lessen their trust in the profession and eliminate any chance of compliance. On the other hand, calmly informing them of their options and giving recommendations rather than ultimatums can make a huge difference in the outcome.

Recognize Differences

Another way to effect change through cultural awareness is to recognize biological differences in a healthy way. While the medical profession strives to serve patients of all backgrounds as objectively and as humanely as possible, the reality is that certain populations may have a greater susceptibility to certain diseases as well as differing levels of access to treatment. Recognizing these factors in an affirming and respectful way can lead to a more customized and effective treatment for the patient rather than adhering to a cure-all.

Integrate the Patient’s Cultural Influences 

Another way to effect change through cultural awareness is to seek to integrate, where appropriate of course, traditional and modern methods of treatment. It is entirely possible for example to prescribe cutting-edge modern treatments to patients while presenting them in a holistic way alongside traditional sensibilities and considerations. 

For example, the colors of a Native American medicine wheel can be possibly given new contexts or traditional herbal remedies can be encouraged alongside professional medical treatments so that the patient feels that they are an integral part of the healing process rather than a commodity or victim.

As more and more people from different backgrounds come together to serve in the medical profession and utilize its services, the reality of and need for greater communication between cultures can no longer be ignored. 

However, an unfortunate tendency is to attempt to erase all our differences in an attempt to be neutral. But by acknowledging these differences in a way that affirms rather than divides, not only can medical care be just as good but perhaps even better. Demonstrating cultural curiosity and respect can lead to better relationships between providers and patients, and recognizing biological and genetic differences in populations can lead to more precise care.