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Understanding multicultural differences

May 31, 2012

By Jill J. Luebbert, CPOT

America has long been known as the melting pot of cultures. The amalgamation of the cultures has given the United States its unique perspective and flavor, making our communities unlike any other place in the world. Our multicultural communities bring a variety of foods, fashion, religion, and convictions into our society and into our eye care practices.

Integrating a multicultural atmosphere in your practice involves every member of the eye care team.

It is important that each staff member achieve an understanding of the patients’ cultural differences. How can you prepare your team for the variety of dynamics of the ethnic diversities we might encounter in the practice?

Research and role-playing can help create a cultural sensitivity atmosphere in your practice. You and your team may already have a pretty good idea about the variety of ethnic backgrounds in your community.

You may also use online resources such as http://www.localcensus.com or contact your chamber of commerce for specific percentages and numbers on the diversity in your community population.

Your practice can set itself apart from the crowd and expand into markets that might be overlooked.

A little research can assist you in developing a marketing strategy to reach and expand your patient base.

The ultimate goal is to provide primary eye care to the members of our communities.

We may designate budgets to internal and external marketing, or we can simply get involved.

Develop positive relationships within the community by becoming involved in local activities. You and every member of your eye care staff have opportunities to get involved.

As eye care professionals, each one of us can bring our unique knowledge and skills to venues such as schools and libraries, as well as civic and church groups.

Topics of discussion could include the benefits of maintaining regular eye care, eye health issues, or something new and exciting in vision care.

This is also our opportunity to reach across cultural boundaries to promote the benefits of eye care and what your practice can offer.

This is also your chance to invite new patients and new cultures into your office.

Research cultural differences to help your office prepare for some of the unique characteristics found among different cultures and prevent someone in your office from inadvertently offending the patient.

Several books and online resources are available to assist you in learning about specific cultural preferences.

Establishing a trust among patients is always a key factor in the outcome of the patient experience. This trust factor becomes even more critical when you are working with cultures other than your own.

Here are a couple examples of cultural misunderstandings:

  • Asian Americans tend not to make eye contact with others. This is done as a sign of respect. If your team is not prepared for this, the lack of eye contact could be misinterpreted as shyness or “not paying attention.”
  • Hispanics hold respect for others in high regard. Therefore, using the patient’s first name only when attending to the patient may be interpreted as disrespectful or insulting.

Staff meetings provide a great platform for you and your team to role play and increase the understanding of cultural preferences.

You might be surprised at how easy it can be to “slip up.” Role-playing gives us the opportunity to become more prepared to interact with other cultures in a respectful and professional manner.

The doctor and team members each play an important role in establishing that positive patient experience. We can each step back and look at our office through the eyes of a new patient and especially through the eyes of a culturally diverse patient.

Our reception area is a great place to begin in establishing a familiar multicultural atmosphere.

Reading material and cultural artwork geared to the cultures found in your neighborhoods will set a welcoming tone.

There are a variety of magazines and other reading materials available designed specifically for interests of specific cultures. The assortment of reading selections will show all of your patients that your practice welcomes the community to your office for their eye care.

The forms we use in the office for welcome, history or other data collection are instrumental to patient flow and the examination process. Having these forms available in languages that are more comfortable to new patients will show them we are sensitive to their needs.

Translating these forms into languages used in our communities can be done by a team member with foreign language skills or by a local high school or college. This active communication project will ease the patient entry process for both the patient and the office.

If you or members of your staff have a multicultural background, this is your time to shine and enlighten the rest of the team. Share your experience and insight.

Bilingual skills offer the practice a unique opportunity to make the patient more comfortable and enhance the credibility of care to the patient.

Many times, we are asked to rely on a member of the patient’s family to translate and hope that the information is being explained correctly.

Bilingual skills employed by yourself or a member of your team can confirm the information is being shared correctly between the doctor and the patient, as well as the patient to the doctor, to ensure the most accurate eye examination results.

Once the eye examination is complete, is your office ready to offer the options your patients seek? High-end products in eyewear and contact lenses are often sought after by patients of different ethnic backgrounds.

In general, black and Hispanic patients lean heavily toward a preference for brand-name eyewear and colored contact lenses. It would be a shame to offer a quality eye examination and then not offer these patients the high-end products they may want. They may feel they need to go elsewhere for their prescription needs. You might lose the opportunity to keep this patient and possibly their family coming to your office.

The complete eye care experience will be enhanced by being prepared to offer the patient high-end or brand-name products.

A multicultural eye care practice demands a total team effort. Respect and understanding of other cultures in your community can be a positive experience for your community and your practice.

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