Culturally relevant medical care essential for HIV minority patients

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    Minority patients with HIV reported better quality of care from culturally competent doctors. (Shutterstock photo)

    HIV patients who belong to a minority demographic often receive a higher quality of care from “culturally competent” doctors, suggests a study published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM). Like many studies before it, the new data brings up the importance of having culturally relevant medical care for the ever-diversifying population of the United States.

    “Our findings suggest that, through either training interventions or through efforts to diversify the health care workforce, increasing health care provider cultural competence holds the potential to reduce racial disparities in both the quality of health care and the health of diverse patient populations,” concluded the report.

    Cultural competence, as defined by the study authors, referred to a combination of awareness, skills, behaviors, and attitudes which made medical providers capable of providing quality care to minority patients with HIV.

    Minority patients receiving care from such providers were more likely to be put on antiretroviral drugs, self-manage their condition, and follow prescription medication protocols compared to HIV patients seen by less culturally competent doctors.

    “There has been a push by healthcare professional organizations to increase the cultural competence of their members, i.e. the effectiveness with which they deal with patients from diverse backgrounds,” stated JGIM in a press release. “[Somnath] Saha (research leader) and team’s study assesses whether cultural competence does indeed lead to better treatment and outcomes for minority HIV patients.”

    Culturally relevant care has been proven important in other aspects of minority health, including that of the mental health field.

    Approximately 39.9 million immigrants reside in the United States, and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), mental health services are, and will continue to reach a growing number of adults and children from different cultural backgrounds. Approximately one in five people residing in the U.S. is a first or second generation immigrant, and nearly 25 percent of children under the age of 18 have an immigrant parent.

    Culturally relevant mental health care is especially relevant when treating patients with chronic diseases or conditions like HIV.

    Despite the growing population of minorities in the U.S. and the need for culturally relevant medical care, the nation is sorely lacking when it comes to minority medical professionals to serve local communities. This disparity is widely seen among the Latino population, as statistics indicate the future number of Hispanic doctors may actually decrease due to current low enrollment in educational courses.

    “In 2007 (the most recent year for which there is data) the number of accepted Latino medical school applicants was down four percent from the year before, according to the AAMC’s ‘Diversity in Medical Education’ report,” explained Newsweek‘s Natalie Rodriguez. ”And while there was small growth in the percentage of Latino medical-school applicants overall (along with every racial group, except for Native Americans), the numbers are basically on par with those from 2005.”

    For many ethnicities, while language barriers may be one of the primary concerns, understanding cultural backgrounds is also important when it comes to a medical provider. Different ethnicities have different views and stigmas surrounding health, illness and medical care, and minorities often feel more at ease when treated by someone who is culturally competent.

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