What’s Your Formula For Health?
August 1st, 2010 by INMED
What is the best formula for physical health? Actually, it depends upon whom you ask. People of some Asian cultures think that to be healthy they must eat snake, do Tai Chi, worship their ancestors, and never, ever give blood. Those from particular African cultures believe to be healthy they must eat a special plant root, avoid exercise, offer sacrifices to the local gods, and be bled periodically. Many who are nurtured in North America hold that to be healthy they must drink red wine daily, do yoga, have nothing to do with gods, and regularly give blood to be tested in a laboratory.
Can you imagine the disagreements if you bring such diverse people together into a healthcare setting? Truth is, these conflicts are a daily fact of modern medicine. People seeking healthcare in North America are increasingly global in their make up. Some 50 million are from distinct cultures and operate with understandings of physical wellbeing that are unfamiliar to most healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, we must effectively interact with these individuals and families to be successful in assisting them.
What steps can be taken to cross the gulf that divides patients and providers of dissimilar backgrounds? The first is to understand their perspectives. Paul F. Basch, Professor of International Health at Stanford University observes, “Many culturally influenced behaviors have important health consequence. It may be our intention to try to modify the behaviors of other people in ways that we consider beneficial – that is, to immunize their children, to maintain sanitary conditions during childbirth, or to plan their families. Such efforts are unlikely to result in the desired changes if we do not understand why behaviors are as they are.”
Just how can we go about gaining such understanding? Here in the Kansas City area, the home of INMED, we have many residents of Bhutanese, Croatian, Turkish and Ukrainian roots. We must begin by assuming we know little at all about such people, and by asking them to enlighten us through questions such as “Among your people, what causes children to have fever? …what is the ideal family size? …what roles do spirits have upon health? …when is it acceptable to seek medical care?” and so on. Time spent simply chatting like this will reveal significant insights that improve our care. These conversations also create another invaluable benefit: trust. In many cultures, a relationship is better established through more informal interaction than through professional consultation.
Today’s proficient healthcare professional must be skilled at building effective relationships with people of diverse backgrounds. Increase your own skills, and then apply them to help patients discover their most appropriate formula for physical health.