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The importance of understanding and addressing cross-cultural barriers in healthcare

Different backgrounds lead to unique ways of perceiving situations, particularly those related to healthcare. Such differences can affect communication among healthcare providers or between hospital staff and patients. To address these needs, it is important to bridge gaps in cultural understanding. 

Strong cross-cultural communication is essential in building trust between patients and physicians, ultimately leading to better patient care. The five main themes associated with cross-cultural barriers in healthcare are language, low literacy rates, lack of understanding, beliefs regarding health and gender, and retention of information. 

Language barriers have a major impact on the quality of healthcare. Lack of coherent communication can cause not only further distrust of the healthcare system but also further reliance on family members for translation, corroding layers of patient privacy and autonomy. Advocating for interpreter services or making use of hospital interpretation services is key to overcoming the language barrier. 

Low literacy rates may present a challenge, particularly in instances where patients take home prescriptions or treatment regimen notes. In this case, telephone health visits may be an adequate alternative. In addition to minimizing wait times, virtual visits can help with cultivating a safe setting for apprehensive patients to ask questions. One thing to be cautious of with telehealth visits is access to telephone services for all patients, keeping in mind standards such as sound quality. 

Lack of understanding can often go hand in hand with attitudes about health beliefs or gender. Patients with different backgrounds may be more or less open to changes in their lifestyle or even visiting a female doctor. In such cases, educating patients on the importance of healthcare and equality is the most significant change we can make. While it will, undoubtedly, take time to facilitate this change, the long-term effects will be unparalleled.

Retention of information is perhaps one of the most crucial barriers to cross-cultural healthcare to address. Hospital visits are rendered meaningless if patients cannot understand or remember discussions from their time there. In this case, actions such as phone calls or text message check-ins or even follow-up appointments may be beneficial to keep track of patient progress. 

Understanding and advocating for solutions to cross-cultural barriers in healthcare is crucial to accurately assessing and diagnosing patient conditions, successfully explaining medical issues to patients, providing patients with medication-related instructions, and alleviating apprehension associated with the healthcare system. Working to bridge the gap in communication can empower patients to direct their own care according to their needs and preferences, consequently improving health outcomes and both patient and provider satisfaction. 

Cross-cultural care, done in the right way, can improve patients’ lives by reducing misdiagnoses, repeat hospital visits, and health disparities in marginalized communities on a larger scale. 

~ Saathvika Diviti `25

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