Frequently asked questions

  1. Where can I find out more about the health of a particular group of people?
  2. How should I talk about death with patients from different cultures?
  3. Why should I use a professional interpreter rather than a patients family member or friend?

Please use this page for information on frequently asked questions about providing culturally sensitive care and achieving health equity

1. Where can I find out more about the health of a particular group of people?

The Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment offers information on the health and well-being of populations across the state of Minnesota and within our communities.

Culture Care Connection offers tools to aid health care organizations, providers, and staff in their efforts to learn more about culture competence.

JustUs Health Provides support and resources for individuals and communities (1) at risk of and living with HIV or (2) facing barriers to equitable health care access and outcomes because of their identity as gender, sexual and/or racial minorities.

OutFront Minnesota Offers resources and support aimed toward helping LBGTQ individuals and achieving LGBTQ equality in Minnesota.

2. How should I talk about death with patients from different cultures?

A: Here's some advice from Rev. Don Patterson, Regions Hospital Pastoral Care who has years of experience in comforting families and counseling patients as they approach death. The law, and the cultural traditions of Western medicine, hold that patients should be fully informed about their medical condition and participate to the extent they are able in devising a treatment plan.

  • When words can hurt

    Patients from other countries and traditions don't necessarily share those assumptions. In some Native American traditions, for example, discussing the possibility of death frankly is seen as setting in motion cosmic forces that make death more likely, says Patterson.

  • Who decides?

    Western notions of medical decision-making dont necessarily correspond with those from other countries and traditions. People from some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures assume that end-of-life decisions will be made by male elders, not by the patient, nor by a female spouse.

  • Cultural Norms, Individual Differences

    There will always be tremendous variation in the beliefs of individuals within any culture. Patterson is no longer surprised if the priest who blesses a terminally ill Christian Hmong patient is hardly out the door before a shaman appears.

  • Ask questions

    The key is use an "and/also" approach to care rather than "either/or. The best approach is put yourself into the role of student, Patterson advises. The patient and the family are your teachers. Ask them how they make important decisions. Ask what they want and don't want to know. Ask what ceremonies or actions are critical to them.

  • Be Flexible. Be Creative.

    In many cases, even desires that seem initially impossible to honor within a hospital can be met, says Patterson. He ministered to a Native American family that wanted to perform a ceremony with smoldering sweetgrass within an intensive care unit. The obvious risk of fire in proximity to oxygen tanks was just one of many concerns. But Patterson found a compromise that satisfied both the family and medical staff. Smoke from sweetgrass burned outside was captured in a bottle. At the critical moment in the ceremony later held at the patient's bedside, the bottle was opened, releasing a trace of the smoke.

3. Why should I use a professional interpreter rather than a patients family member or friend?

A: You should call an interpreter unless the patient refuses. Here's why:

  • Accuracy: X-Rayed or Microwaved?

    In one study using ad hoc interpreters, between a quarter and half of the words and phrases were incorrectly communicated. A Minneapolis teenager translating for his mother told her she was going to be microwaved instead of x-rayed. Clear communication leads to more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

  • Ethical Care

    Use of family members and friends as interpeters strips patients of confidentiality and privacy and it can reap inaccurate information, if the patient is embarrassed to reveal personal information to a relative or friend.

  • It's the Law

    The federal Office of Civil Rights has consistently ruled that trained and qualified interpreters must be provided in health care settings. Courts have held that a physician's failure to overcome language barriers for non-English speaking patients can establish a lack of informed consent to treatment. Judges have ruled that doctors are responsible for making certain that they fully understand the complaints of patients, whether or not the patient speaks English.