“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”—Mahatma Gandhi
At this particular moment in time, a broad range of cultural conflicts are playing out on a daily basis. It is vital—today and every day—that healthcare providers remain sane and practice cultural sensitivity while we are serving our fellow human beings.
Communication, rehabilitation, medical, and public health services share the same goal—improving the quality of life. But how can someone’s quality of life be improved if they do not feel heard or respected, or if they feel that their human rights have been violated?
Professionally and personally, we come across people from various cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. As academicians, professionals, and communicators, it is our moral and ethical duty to pay attention to how our clients feel while receiving our services.
Especially in our current environment, clients may experience some uncertainty, fear, or judgment, inhibiting their ability to communicate their feelings effectively. More than ever, we need to actively create an environment that provides a safe platform for our patients and our fellow professionals. It is crucial that as healthcare professionals we continue to set an example for our colleagues around the world by displaying our commitment to professional respect, diversity, acceptance, non-confrontational communication, and human values.
11 Tips for Providing Culturally Sensitive Healthcare
These practices can help each of us stand tall, now and in the future:
1. Understand and check your own biases.
Everyone looks at others through their own lens of experiences, upbringing, and belief systems. These aspects of your personal history can play a role in developing and projecting unintentional biases.
Becoming aware of your biases and respecting differences is the first step in creating a safe zone. Introspection first!
2. Check if you are labeling things as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
What is good for one may not be suitable for another. You need to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you there to label someone’s choices as ‘good or bad?’
- Are you equipped with skills that allow you to do so?
3. Avoid personal questions that are not relevant to the services being provided.
Personal questions can make a client uncomfortable. They may not want to entertain personal questions. While some questions of a personal nature are necessary for appropriate treatment, it is vital to obtain the patient’s permission before bombarding them with these types of potentially upsetting questions.
4. Avoid sharing personal views, opinions, or beliefs if they are not relevant to the service being provided.
Keep your communication relevant to the domain of the services as much as possible.
5. Try to allow more ‘mental space’ for clients to think and make decisions regarding the clinical choices you have offered.
If someone needs time to think, they should be allowed some space to take their time. This may mean allowing additional time during your appointments.
6. Invite questions from your patients.
Ensure that they feel comfortable asking without any hesitation if they feel that the information provided is not clear or if they simply need more details.
7. Organize the educational material you provide and make it readily available to your clients.
Does the educational material you provide follow health literacy principles? Is it appropriate for a diverse section of the population? Can you provide it in ways that are suitable for individual patients? MedBridge’s Patient Education resources use plain language to describe complicated concepts and can be printed, emailed, or sent via the MedBridge GO mobile app, allowing them to meet a wide spectrum of patient needs.
8. Use polite language.
Respectful words and patient-first language help foster a respectful environment. While some patients may appreciate jokes, others may find them offensive or confusing. Build rapport with your patients and get to know their own personal communication style.
9. Listen to patient feedback.
A clear understanding of the information from both sides is crucial in reducing communication breakdown. Your patients’ feedback about what they understand is vital. Ask them to repeat your instructions, invite them to tell you about their concerns, and listen carefully to their feedback. They may provide feedback about your services that feels personal. In this case, do not become defensive; instead, listen with an open mind to gain an understanding of their point of view.
10. While conducting home-based services, be respectful of the physical space and your client’s property.
Refrain from making judging comments, assumptions, or suggestions that are not related to the services being provided.
11. Continue working toward developing your cultural competency skills.
Remember, our professional commitment is to focus on providing appropriate, adequate, and evidence-based services. The services provided need to positively contribute to and improve our patients’ quality of life. We need to state and adhere to our mission with clarity and positivity.
Our internal realm has to be honest, compassionate, empathetic, and dedicated to the services we provide, no matter what the current external situation may be.
We would encourage our global colleagues to recall Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
Check out MedBridge’s resources for providing culturally sensitive healthcare, including a free CEU course on diversity!