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Culturally Sensitive HIV Care

Be Aware of Cultural Differences


Updated June 18, 2014

America is the great melting pot. The population is made up of many different cultures, all requiring different approaches to health care. To deliver complete HIV care, we must be aware of these cultural differences. Culturally sensitive care targets the entire person not just his or her physical ailment. This culturally sensitive guide to HIV care will help care givers consider these differences when providing HIV care.

African American Patients

  • Address patients by their formal names, especially elderly patients.
  • Make direct eye contact.
  • Because there may be a reluctance to disclose personal information, explain why the information is needed before asking.
  • Be aware of historic mistrust of the health care profession by some African American people.

Chinese Patients

  • When asking the patient his or her name also ask how they want to be addressed.
  • Be aware that people from China may be more formal than Americans or other cultures.
  • Chinese believe that foods can assist in healing disease so inquire about food choices and preferences.
  • Since treatment decisions are often made by family members, include all family members medical discussions if the patient desires.
  • Be aware of the importance of "saving face" and "pride" in the Chinese culture.
  • When taking blood samples, explain the need for such tests. The Chinese culture places great importance on the blood and considers it the source of life. Some feel blood is not regenerated.

Muslim Patients

  • Muslims can be reluctant to share personal information with others. Explain the importance of disclosing such information to health care providers.
  • To gain the patient's trust, consider sharing a small bit of personal information about yourself.
  • Be aware that a family spokesman or even a community spokesman may represent the patient when dealing with health care providers.
  • Being frank when communicating bad news or prognosis may not be appropriate.

Japanese Patients

  • Doctors are often seen as authority figures in the Japanese culture. Because of this patients and families are often reluctant to ask questions. Ask the patient and their family several times if they have any questions and assure them it is ok to ask them.
  • Treatment decisions are often made by the family. Include family in all treatment decisions if the patient desires.
  • While many Japanese patients, especially the elderly may not be comfortable expressing their emotions, they do appreciate empathy, respect and kindness. Be aware that nonverbal communication can be a very important tool in dealing with Japanese patients.

Mexican American/Hispanic Patients

  • Be aware that religion and spirituality is an important part of this culture. Allow religious items, rosary beads, etc. at the bedside if the family and patient so wishes.
  • Be aware that prayer is also important and may take place at the bedside and include family and friends.

Russian Patients

  • In the Russian culture, bad news is not given to patients. Talk with the family first to decide if bad news should be given directly to the patient.
  • Some Russian patients may overreact. Be optimistic and cautious when explaining prognosis and treatment options.
  • Some may distrust doctors and health care professionals, resulting in poor adherence to treatments, medicines, and appointments.
  • Homeopathics and natural remedies are important in the Russian culture. Encourage discussion of such practices with health care providers before starting alternatives and homeopathics.
  • Psychaitric illnesses are often viewed as disgraceful in Russian and will not be admitted to readily by some.

Realizing our differences is an important part of providing the best care to our patients, whether they are living with HIV or another disease. Be aware of culture when caring for someone. Your patients will be better for your effort.

This information was made available with the help of the University of Michigan Health System

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