When you’re choosing a doctor, there are a wide range of things to consider in order to feel safe and comfortable. Many patients are making cultural competence a priority.
It’s a growing concern for doctors too. A recent poll by Heatlhgrades, a US company that collects information about health care providers, found that “31% of physicians said their level of cultural competency affected their ability to provide the best possible care either somewhat or a lot.”
The American Psychological Association defines cultural competence as the ability to understand, appreciate, and interact with others with different backgrounds and beliefs. That can include ethnic groups, the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, and more.
Progress is being made on several fronts, but there are still significant obstacles. For example, only 5% of US physicians identify as Black or African American, a figure that has increased by only 4 percentage points over the last 120 years.
Finding a doctor who understands your unique needs can help you to have a more positive experience. Learn more about culturally competent health care.
Finding a Culturally Competent Doctor:
- Check your insurance. You’ll probably have more options if you’re insured through your employer, rather than public programs. Call your insurance company or search providers using filters based on your preferences.
- Seek referrals. Your family and friends are an excellent source of recommendations. You can also contact community clinics and affinity groups, like the National Hispanic Medical Association or the National Medical Association, which represents African American physicians.
- Discuss accommodations. Make it easier for your provider to work with you by notifying them in advance about your needs. For example, hospitals that receive federal funding are legally required to provide an interpreter if you have trouble communicating in English.
- Ask questions. When you’re considering a provider, find out more about their training and experience. Ask them if they’ve treated patients with your background and how that influences the care they provide.
- Look around. You can learn more by observing their offices. Are there posters and brochures with inclusive language and images? How does the staff interact with other patients?
- Go online. If it’s difficult to find a local provider, virtual visits may expand your options. That can be especially helpful for mental health services.
- Support training. Many medical schools now offer cultural competence courses to help doctors become more prepared. However, the total contact time is usually less than one week, so more needs to be done.
- Extend invitations. Community involvement can help build trust and respect too. Let local providers know about neighborhood events and organizations.
- Do research. Depending on your background, you may be at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other issues. Educating yourself empowers you when it comes to setting priorities and making decisions about your medical care and lifestyle.
- Volunteer your services. Use your life experience and language skills to benefit others. Check with local hospitals and clinics about service opportunities.
- Keep records. Writing things down is a smart strategy for any patient. Make a list of questions you want to ask and take notes during appointments. Provide your doctor with accurate information about your symptoms and medical history.
- Bring a family member. Ask someone you trust to accompany you on doctor visits. They can help with communications and advocating for your needs.
Both patients and physicians have a role to play in strengthening cultural competency in health care.Meanwhile, making informed decisions and communicating openly with your doctor can help you and your family to get the treatment you deserve.
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