Medicine and healthcare means different things to different people. It’s as diverse as the people who come seeking professional diagnosis and treatment. Think about all those countless times individuals enter clinics and hospitals – they are more than just a medical history. These are people from different races, cultures, ages, sexual orientations, religions, social-economic backgrounds, etc. – a true melting pot of humanity.
The expectation is on every medical professional is to understand every patient’s unique perspective, tailor treatment according to their needs, and assist them with utmost care and respect. It’s far more critical than we think. There alarming numbers that a clear indication of patient care does not preclude prejudice.
Healthcare Disparity: The Statistics Are Alarming!
Disparities in healthcare outcomes by ethnicity are, unfortunately, a real problem. Recent studies have shown that:
- African-American women with breast cancer are 67 percent more likely to die from the disease than are Caucasian women.
- The mortality rate for African American infants is almost 2.5 times greater than it is for white children.
- Hispanic and African American youth are substantially more likely to die from diabetes than white populations.
- Even when controlling for access-related factors, such as patients’ insurance status and income, some racial and ethnic minority groups are still more likely to receive lower-quality health care.
Ethnicity is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to equal access to equal healthcare.
The Role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Healthcare
The American population is growing every day and becoming more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that America will become a majority-minority country by 2045. The multi-racial population is projected to be the fastest-growing over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. (Pollack 2021)
The roles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in medicine are many. For example, diversity at clinics and hospitals aids in treating a patient better – apart from knowing their medical history, the background of the patient, their culture, sexual orientation, socio-economic status is all crucial in taking a holistic approach to representing a patient.
Similarly, equity ensures that patients have everything they need in and out of treatment settings. And inclusion gives patients a voice to seek the best medical care and asks for a diverse healthcare staff who understand a patient’s individual diversity needs and treat them accordingly.
Inclusive Care to Racially Diverse Patients
Inclusive healthcare involves assessing medical, behavioral, and socio-economic conditions to customize a treatment plan, addressing all factors influencing a person’s overall health. Recognizing patients’ cultural needs is one of the keys steps in treating them.
Ask enough questions about their cultural practices to provide them with the best health advice. Language difference can also be a barrier, so be mindful of it as well. The U.S. is predominantly an English-speaking nation, but some patients may not be fluent in it.
The patient should have the option of using interpreters to communicate with the medical professionals. All the paperwork, written documents, etc., should be handed to them in their local language for quick comprehension and understanding.
Inclusive Care to LGBTQ Patients
For medical professionals, it all starts with first educating themselves with key LGBTQ terms and definitions. It’s an indication that you are respectful of their orientation and what defines them. The next thing is to display your support for individuals in the LGBTQ community – place the clinic and hospital’s non-discrimination policy upfront.
Use inclusive language while interacting with the patients from the LGBTQ community. For registration forms, give them the option of using their preferred pronoun, relationship status, etc. Many in this community don’t believe in labeling themselves in a certain way, so do not rush to assume and use one. Instead, mirror what the patient says to you.
In the entire process, always remember to convey respect. The patient is trusting you with personal and sometimes sensitive information.
Inclusive Care to Disabled Patients
The clinic or hospital needs to have a sign language interpreter for patients with auditory disabilities. Modify procedures, systems, and equipment to enable disabled patients to use them.
Communicate using the first name with visually impaired patients – it makes them feel confident and connected. Be as precise as possible in giving information to them. Provide facilities brail notepad etc., for communication.
Similarly, if you have patients with mobility issues, providing a wheelchair or other mobility aid is a must.
Whether you are a patient or a healthcare professional, you should expect a higher level of patient care at every level. The medical treatments that are encouraged in inclusive healthcare should give the patient confidence in following a protocol back to health. Alongside conventional medical treatments, the patient needs to stay in touch with their primary medical professional at all times to evaluate the progress and results of an inclusive treatment experience. We believe that all people have a right to inclusive medical treatment and care.
Jordan, Alyssa. The Importance of Diversity in Healthcare & How to Promote It. 17 June 2020, www.provocollege.edu/blog/the-importance-of-diversity-in-healthcare-how-to-promote-it/.
Pollack, Rick. “Diversity and Inclusion: AHA.” American Hospital Association, AHA, 2021, www.aha.org/resources/diversity-and-inclusion.