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Cultural Sensitivity Is Key to Quality Care

April 20, 2011

Washington, DC -- Awareness and sensitivity to a patient's cultural background can improve physician-patient communication and positively affect patient health, according to a new Committee Opinion released today by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College). By learning more about the cultural identity of their patients, ob-gyns can become more sensitive to women's unique needs and can enhance quality of care and medical compliance, especially among women in minority and underserved communities.

A woman's ethnic heritage, nationality, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or socio-economic status can contribute to how she makes decisions regarding her health. A physician's unfamiliarity with the traditions and values of certain patient populations can lead to confusion, misinterpretation, and low adherence to medical advice, especially when a woman's culture is at odds with widely accepted medical practices. Lack of cultural understanding toward historically underserved groups—such as Hispanic, African-American, immigrant, low-income, and lesbian and bisexual women; transgendered individuals; women with disabilities; and women from faiths unfamiliar to the physician—can also lead to inadequate medical care.

The College suggests a variety of ways that doctors can foster cultural awareness. Several scenarios are presented in the new Committee Opinion that demonstrate how cultural sensitivity can help ob-gyns acknowledge, respect, and incorporate a patient's set of values and improve medical outcomes.

"The ability to communicate and connect with patients of different backgrounds and provide quality care that respects their personal values and beliefs is a critical skill for ob-gyns," said Maureen G. Phipps, MD, chair of The College's Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. "Health care should not be one-size-fits-all. When we acknowledge and attempt to understand the cultural identities of our patients, we're better able to deliver beneficial and individualized care."

Committee Opinion #493 "Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness in the Delivery of Health Care" is published in the May 2011 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation's leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 55,000 members, The College strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women's health care. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization. www.acog.org


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