Cultural norms, beliefs, and customs can influence the receipt and pursuit of health care in numerous ways. It can affect how patients take care of their health, how they perceive health and illness, their beliefs about death, preferred treatment types, perception of pain and suffering, and how they make decisions that affect their health (Napier et al., 2014). In addition, it can influence how nurses and other health care practitioners interact with patients and the type of advice and medical care that they offer.
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Members of some cultures are more hesitant to seek treatment because of the influence of cultural beliefs that govern their decisions and lifestyles. Cultural perceptions of causes of diseases, death, and treatment determine whether a person will seek help or not. Gender roles can also affect the receipt of medical treatment as one partner in a relationship may be dominant and so make all decisions regarding treatment. Cultural misunderstandings can compromise the ability of health care practitioners to provide quality patient care because culture influences patient communication, family support, and adherence to treatment plans (Napier et al., 2014).
A physician may perceive a patient as unintelligent because of their refusal to accept a certain diet as part of their treatment plan. However, diet preferences vary among cultures, and it is important for health care professionals to understand such differences. For example, some cultures believe that it is the responsibility of the family to deal with unpleasant medical news. However, American health care emphasizes the importance of the patient’s autonomy or the right to know (Srinivasan, 2016). Some cultures believe that only God has the power to heal. Therefore, going to the hospital is meaningless. Other cultures use alternative medicine: they rely on complementary and alternative therapies. The majority believe that folk medicines are effective in treating certain illnesses. Stereotyping might also deter patients from seeking treatment because of the lack of respect for their cultures (Srinivasan, 2016).
Cultural factors that contribute to a hesitancy to seek treatment include a language barrier, prejudice and discrimination, indifference to professional help, socialization, stigma toward seeking help, and social norms (Srinivasan, 2016). Language barriers impede effective communication between physicians and patients, and therefore, hamper proper evaluation and diagnosis. Societies that embrace the philosophy of stoicism might encourage their members to shun medical care because they are expected to endure pain without any complaint.
Napier, A. D., Ancarno, C., Butler, B., Calabrese, J., Chater, A., Chatterjee, H., Woolf, K. (2014). Culture and health. Lancet, 384(1), 1607-1639.
Srinivasan, M. (2016). Cultural influences on primary care delivery. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 31(11), 1265-1266.