LanguageLine Blog

Understanding Cultural and Traditional Practices Improves Patient Care

Written by Suzy duMont-Perez | June 16, 2016

Culture is an integral part of our make-up, influencing who we are and how we communicate. According to the U. S. Census, the foreign-born population in 2014 was at 42.3M and is expected to grow to 47.9M by 2020. As our population continues to become more ethnically and culturally diverse, it is essential that healthcare professionals and others working with diverse populations possess cultural awareness sensitivities and the ability have access to cross cultural communication. Culturally aware healthcare organizations are sensitive to the use of traditional treatment practices of diverse populations.Traditional treatment practices are based on the beliefs, values, and experiences of different cultures and can vary dramatically from those of the culture in which they are residing. Discussed below are two treatment practices typically found in Asian cultures.

Coining/Cao Gio

Coining is a traditional treatment used in South Asian populations to treat a variety of illnesses such as aches, pains, fevers, colds, cough, nausea, abdominal pain, chills and symptoms related to changes in the weather.  Known as Cao Gio in Vietnamese, the term translates to “Catch the Wind.” The theory is that extra “wind” in the blood is the cause of many illnesses. Therefore, the “bad wind” is released by rubbing an ointment over an area on the skin (typically the back, shoulder or chest) with a hard object such as a coin until red linear marks appear.

Cupping Therapy

Another traditional treatment that leaves behind red marks on the skin is cupping. An ancient treatment practiced by Asian, Russian, and Egyptian cultures, cupping is believed to mobilize blood flow in order to promote healing. The treatment involves heating the air inside a cup and placing the cup on the skin creating a vacuum which pulls the skin part of the way into the cup. According to WebMD, while the treatment is relatively safe, there is a potential for side effects such as burns and skin infection. According to the American Cancer Society, serious health consequences can result if patients choose to rely on cupping therapy alone, forgoing conventional treatment. Cupping may leave circular red welts on the patient’s body. These welts may be misinterpreted as abuse.

Traditional Treatment Practices and Child Abuse Allegations

All too often, traditional treatment practices are mistaken as child abuse. This is largely due to language barriers, cultural bias, and the failure to recognize cultural health practices. For example, parents from two Southeast Asian families in Nebraska were accused of child abuse after teachers noticed bruises on the children. The parents indicated that the bruising resulted from Cao Gio. Yet, their limited English proficiency made matters worse as they were unable to immediately contact the school or the police and adequately dispel the child abuse allegations due to language barriers. Further, the cultural bias of the local law enforcement resulted in having the children temporarily removed from the parents’ care, proving traumatic for both parents and children.

Deliver Care with Sensitivity to Culture

The Principal Standard in the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards in Health and Health Care is: “Provide effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs.”  Take time to learn the cultures of patients within the community and the traditions they follow. Cultural competency and sensitivity helps healthcare professionals better understand situations in which cultural differences impact care.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a Committee Opinion stating, “Communication with patients can be improved and patient care enhanced if health care providers can bridge the divide between the culture of medicine and the beliefs and practices that make up patients' value systems. These may be based on ethnic heritage, nationality of family origin, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic status. Every health care encounter provides an opportunity to have a positive effect on patient health. Health care providers can maximize this potential by learning more about patients' cultures.”

Delivering care with cultural sensitivity and understanding increases patient satisfaction, builds trust, improves outcomes, and assists your organization in complying with laws and regulations.

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