Guest Blog: Cultural Sensitivity Is a Must in Patient Communication

Sarah Ward Prager, MD

Sarah Ward Prager, MD

Have you ever gone to the doctor and felt like he or she just wasn’t understanding you? You’re not alone. Many women have their own beliefs about health, medicines, and other treatments. Sometimes those beliefs don’t match up with what doctors recommend, even though the doctor’s suggestions are based on research proving they work. When patients bring their own cultural beliefs, sensitivities, or fears about health and health care to their appointment, they may need more explanation than just the evidence.

In some cases, doctors just need to listen better and avoid making assumptions about patients. For example, ob-gyns may believe all young women are at risk for an unintended pregnancy, but that’s not the case for women in committed same-sex relationships. Other times, doctors may need to be more clear in explaining the reasons for certain tests or medications, using words and examples that fit into the patient’s own cultural framework.

ACOG understands that approaching patient encounters with cultural awareness and sensitivity creates a more satisfying and caring relationship. To help ob-gyns become more aware of health-care related issues and beliefs in different cultures, ACOG has developed resources that address the traditions and cultural norms common among women of certain backgrounds. ACOG’s cultural sensitivity committee opinion offers typical doctor’s office scenarios with examples of sensitive vs. non-sensitive approaches to a patient’s culture and background. Additionally, ACOG will soon release a video training series that includes clinical vignettes demonstrating a wrong way and a right way to communicate with a patient, taking her heritage and beliefs into account.

Your ob-gyn wants to understand you and communicate with you effectively, and using these ACOG’s cultural sensitivity resources can help make that happen. Also, remember to tell your doctor about the cultural beliefs that are important to you. In the end, sharing what you value is one of the most helpful tools for facilitating better two-way communication.

Sarah Ward Prager, MD, is an ob-gyn at the University of Washington and is a member of ACOG’s Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women.

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