Health resources for cultural profiles

  1. Quick Links to Cultural Profiles
  2. More Links to Explore
  3. Ask Your Patient
  4. The Most Sensible Questions

Q: How do I find out more about the health of a particular group of people?

A: Below you'll find quick links to more information on racial, ethnic and sexually-identified groups. A word of caution: the information you'll discover here may help you form questions to ask a patient, but it will never perfectly describe the individual before you. There is tremendous diversity within populations. Many Hmong, for example, are animists. The Hmong patient in your office may be Lutheran. Informed questions, sensitively put, will serve everyone better than assumptions.

Quick Links to Cultural Profiles

More Links to Explore

Because there are so many possibilities, we've limited the listings below to websites that focus on the health of specific communities. Here are some of the best sites on the web, to get you started.

Cross-Cultural Health Program
This excellent site, based in Seattle, offers community profiles for Arab, Cambodian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Lao, Oromo, Somali, and Soviet Jewish groups, among others. The profiles are downloadable and free.

Center for Cross-Cultural Health
This local resource and non-profit information clearinghouse sells health profiles for Minnesota's Albanian, Bosnian, Hmong, Nuer, Jewish American, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese communities. The profiles can be ordered through the website.

Provider's Guide to Quality and Culture
A federally-managed site where you will find comprehensive information about common health beliefs and practices of numerous groups, including those cited in the "Quick Links to Cultural Profiles" section above. This excellent site also identifies key clinical issues in various populations, and offers useful pointers of providing culturally sensitive care.

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
Includes helpful guides on creating a safe clinical environment for gay, lesbian and transgendered patients, plus guides to incorporating a sexual risk assessment into routine office visits.

Ask Your Patient

Finally, the best resources for learning about the cultures of immigrant and minority patients are our patients themselves. When approached respectfully and appropriately, most people are only too happy to explain how they view the world and their health.

It's great to learn about cultures. But it's important to know that general descriptions can lead to stereotypes. The best way to avoid generalizing too much about the health practices of "all Somalis," or "all gays," is to find out as much as you can about each individual patient you see.

The Most Sensible Questions

Arthur Kleinman, a renowned medical anthropologist, says it best, when he reminds health care providers that every patient belongs to a culture and, simultaneously, is an individual with many unpredictable idiosyncrasies.

Given that, Kleinman says, there are only a few questions that need to be asked of any patient, regardless of culture. They are:

  • What do you call your problem or sickness? What name does it have?
  • What do you think caused your sickness?
  • Why do you think it started when it did?
  • What does your sickness do to you? How does it work?
  • How severe is it? Do you think it will last a short or long time?
  • What do you most fear about your sickness?
  • What are the chief problems that your sickness has caused for you?
  • What kind of treatment do you think you should receive? What are the most important results you hope to receive from the treatment?

By asking these questions, you can learn a wealth of information about your patient's perspective on health and illness, which will help you to be more patient-centered in your treatment approaches.