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Staying Sensitive to Diversity and Patient Care

Written by Marie Buchanan, BSN, RN, CCRC

Our country is full of many racial and ethnic groups that make up the cultural richness of diversity in our nation's landscape. Each corner of our country is an amalgamation of traditions, values, languages, and cuisines, interweaving into the thriving tapestry that shares our nation's history and identity. As healthcare providers, we must maintain awareness of diversity during patient care. Social/economic background, race, religious and political beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, culture, and so on can all affect patient outcomes in the health care system. We need to remain vigilant and keep an open mind when it comes to covering patients with diverse backgrounds.

At its core, diversity is the proactive inclusion and involvement of individuals from every background and identity. Embracing diversity propels us toward a society marked by inclusion, promoting the well-being and happiness of all its members. To genuinely achieve this, it's essential first to cultivate an acute awareness of diversity, beginning with introspection. Recognizing the biases and preconceptions within ourselves is pivotal because these can inadvertently color our care and interactions, especially with patients who deserve our utmost unbiased attention.

Integral to our discussions about diversity are the members of our LGBTQ+ community, which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer individuals, and others. They exist in every part of our country, bringing their unique experiences and backgrounds. Their diverse health needs warrant consistent attention throughout our healthcare system and every facet of our nation. Supporting this, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has made available invaluable services and hotlines designed specifically to cater to those in need within the LGBTQ+ community.

Differences in groups of people can lead to health disparities. Within certain groups of people, there are higher risks to certain conditions. Some have less access to healthcare leading to worse outcomes. Many studies have been done to analyze the differences in patient outcomes based on gender and racial backgrounds, and here are a few examples:

  • The National Vital Statistics reports the average life expectancy of a non-Hispanic white female is 80.1 years versus a non-Hispanic black female is 75.4 years.
  • The CDC reports the statistical percentages of people diagnosed with hypertension in 2015-2018. For white females, 37.3%, while for black females, it is 56.3%.
  • The percentage of adults aged 18-64 without healthcare coverage is 13.4%.
  • Studies conducted by the Health Professionals for Diversity Coalition have revealed that African-American women with breast cancer have a 67% higher likelihood of dying from the disease than their Caucasian counterparts.
  • The mortality rate of African-American infants is almost five times higher than white children.

Different areas of our country have different race backgrounds. Exploring language barriers in our diverse nation raises many communication challenges. The US Census shows that the three highest areas in our country for the Hispanic population are California, Texas, and Florida. Language barriers can add time to the health care visit and add the need for translators, which in turn can lead to an increase in cost and a decrease in quality. Lack of communication can lead to miscommunications and dissatisfaction with care delivered. Some healthcare institutions have used tools such as "Google Translate" and "Medi Babble" to assist with translation.

One way we can help improve our competence in handling diverse situations is through training and education. Include topics of diversity in staff meetings. Within our staff, we all have co-workers with various backgrounds. Invite all to share their experiences and encourage everyone to participate. Be sensitive to those sharing their life experiences and events that have affected them positively or negatively. Many institutions commonly offer educational training for new hires and current staff. Also, many online courses are available geared toward those working in the healthcare industry. We can address our internal bias and explore ways to become sensitive to the diversity of our patient populations.

In conclusion, it's imperative for us to remain unwavering in our commitment to advancing and refining the outcomes for our patients. While we cannot alter or deny the events of history, it stands as a testament to human progression, offering invaluable lessons from our past transgressions. Such reflections enable us to discern better strategies and avenues for ameliorating our shared future. Several factors, such as communication breakdowns, the absence of guiding role models, and constrained viewpoints, have historically hindered our capability to make crucial observations about patient history, diagnosis, and myriad other elements crucial to their holistic care.

To address these issues, we must foster a robust awareness of diversity not only in behavioral health but also in physical health domains and the broader landscape of healthcare accessibility. Such initiatives and understandings are not just beneficial but crucial. By embracing the diverse tapestry of human experiences and perspectives, we can more adeptly identify and cater to the multifaceted needs of our patients. In doing so, we not only improve the quality of care but also strengthen the bonds of empathy and understanding that underscore the very essence of the healthcare profession.

About the Author:

Marie Buchanan, BSN, RN, CCRC, currently works as a clinical research coordinator in the outpatient setting. She completed her BSN at Michigan State University and has worked as a registered nurse in inpatient and outpatient settings. Marie currently holds a certification and membership through the Academy of Clinical Research Professionals. Marie is busy with her family, is an active member at her local church, supports the Safe Animal Shelter, and is a current member of the Altrusa group.

Marie is an independent contributor to CEUfast’s Nursing Blog Program. Please note that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely of the independent contributor and do not necessarily represent those of CEUfast. This is not medical advice. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider for any health-related questions or concerns.

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