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Patient-centred care: Ten tips for caring for a diverse population

Toronto, September 19, 2013

By Anthony Mohamed

Anthony Mohamed
Anthony Mohamed, senior specialist of equity and community engagement, Inner City Health Program

St. Michael’s patients, staff, physicians, students, visitors and volunteers make up a very diverse group. To me, patient-centred care includes taking advantage of the opportunities we have every day to learn from each other, provide culturally-appropriate care and celebrate who we are. Here are my top ten tips for caring for a diverse population.

  1. Treat people equitably – but don’t ignore differences. People view health care differently based on their individual perceptions of health, past experiences with discrimination or access to health information. Acknowledging and discussing these items with your patient may help you both decide on the most effective, patient-centred care plan.

  2. Try different foods. Toronto’s downtown core has restaurants that have everything from pasta to pancit to pelau. Get out and explore! Or organize a national dish/cultural potluck meal with co-workers. It may help you better understand patient requests during meal times.

  3. Volunteer. Serve a meal at a local drop in, participate in a community fundraising activity or drop off some baked goods for an Out of the Cold program. Apart from the great feeling you’ll get, you may gain a better understanding of the living situations of many of our patients.

  4. Engage qualified language interpreters. Engaging untrained staff, family members and friends of patients during a medical appointment can lead to misunderstandings, a breach of confidentiality and pose a serious risk for the hospital. Use St. Michael’s valuable interpreter service – community interpreters are trained, free to patients and available in-person (when arranged in advance) and by telephone (24/7).

  5. Familiarize yourself with our policies and the Patient Relations office. St. Michael’s doesn’t tolerate harassment and discrimination, and has clear policies on how to resolve conflicts among our staff. Patient Relations staff can also provide direction to and mediation with patients when necessary. Refer to and use these policies and services if you need to – they are here to protect you and your colleagues.

  6. Know our mission and values. For more than 120 years, St. Michael’s mission, vision and core values have provided direction for all of our services. They reinforce our need to always provide the best possible care to all our clients and they create an organizational culture that values and celebrates our differences.

  7. Take social data into account. Who are your patients? Who in our community are you not serving? Why? Comparing the ethno-racial, linguistic, religious and cultural make-up of our local community to that of our patients can give us clues into how easy or difficult it is for some groups to access our care. St. Michael’s is working towards recording this data hospital-wide, so we can use it to plan and develop patient-centred services.

  8. Create a welcoming environment. Patients have told us that putting up artwork from different cultural groups and offering health-related brochures, magazines and newspapers from various cultural and language groups in waiting rooms help patients feel comfortable and at home.

  9. Learn about religions and faith groups. Many staff, students, volunteers, physicians and patients have different belief systems. What does a kosher or halal meal refer to? What holidays are important to your co-workers or patients? Are there ethical or legal questions regarding certain hospital procedures and religious beliefs? A Spiritual Care staff member can help answer these and other questions.

  10. Assess your progress. Set your own equity goals and check in with yourself regularly. Do you feel comfortable working with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender colleagues or patients? Are your department work areas and education materials accessible to people who are deaf, blind or use a wheelchair? Do you know where you can get further information about culturally-based perceptions of health?

Do you think these steps could change the way you approach your work or have they already? What would you add to this list?

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.