Ethnic minority patients yearn for warmth from health care professionals

Developing better connections between ethnic minority patients and health care professionals could drive more positive health care experience for ethnic minority patients, researchers have found.

Responding to reports of discrimination and treatment lacking in empathy, the researchers, led by the University of Westminster and including scientists from Oxford University, Queen Mary University of London, King’s College London and the University of Portsmouth, analysed the social and cultural influences in the experience of ethnic minority psychological and/or cancer patients in 29 studies.

Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the research team uncovered a multitude of human feelings at play during the care of ethnic minority patients which has been overlooked until now.

Understanding and reacting to patients with warmth and positivity, just as a family member or friend would, could have a transformative impact on improving care.

The researchers found that patients essentially yearned to have their whole selves and circumstances in which they lived recognised and understood by their practitioners. Or as one participant in one of the studies examined said, professionals who “who will listen to us, who will allow us to talk”.

The study shows that warm language and feeling connected is used frequently to describe successful partnerships with professionals. An asylum seeker from Sudan in an included study said, “if she has not won my love, some of the things, it’s not easy to talk about it…she’s concerned with my life.” Others talked about valued professionals as being like their “family”.

The study, which has been published by PLOS ONE, concludes that training in developing better connections with patients could be a way to improve the care for ethnic minority patients.

Professor Damien Ridge, Lead Researcher from the University of Westminster, said: “Essentially, we found that it is the common human things that connect us and that are important to us, which have been overlooked in the care for ethnic minority patients, and which, if better understood by professionals, could help to improve care. Positively, our findings suggest that practitioners can be trained to draw upon their own emotional lives, to improve connections with their patients who feel disengaged.”

Dr Dipesh Gopal from Queen Mary University of London said: “Health care that fails to appreciate the centrality of creating safety and connectedness in care consultations for all kinds of patients risks inadvertently ‘othering’ patients.”

Professor Kam Bhui from the University of Oxford commented: “While different patients will want different approaches, the importance of warmth and positivity in health consultations should be explored as a way of improving care, and what gets in the way would be important to investigate further.”

Professor Trudie Chalder from King’s College London said: “Patients, irrespective of background, desire to feel connected to their health care professionals. But discrimination adds another layer of complexity where patients from ethnic minorities can end up feeling less cared for than their white counterparts.”

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