“There are a lot of ways to skin a cat” – also in health care

I recently read an interview with Nancy McKinstry, CEO of Wolters Kluwer and nr 77 on Forbes’ list of most powerful women in the world (1). She talked about two times in her life that made her who she is, one of which is her relocation toby MDphotography the Netherlands to head Wolters Kluwer. During her work she encountered people from many different nationalities and realised that different cultures solve problems in different ways: “There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. They don’t necessarily have to do it the way I would.” This is not only true in the business world, but also in other areas of life – such as in health care.

Many of us have been surprised by the way things are done in a different country – at least, I have. This is harmless if it comes to buying groceries (do they put the change in your hand or on the counter?) or stepping on the bus (do you enter at the front or at the back?), but something else if it comes to your health. Nowadays, a growing number of interactions in health care are complicated by the fact that doctors and patients come from a different cultural background. A large group are, of course, immigrants and their descendants – almost 21% of the Dutch population is born abroad or has one or both parents who are born abroad (2). Intercultural healthcare encounters also happen for expatriates who relocate abroad for a couple of years, international students, and even for tourists who have the misfortune of ending up in a foreign hospital during their holiday. This blog and its comments list a couple of those experiences (Medical Treatment in a Foreign Country: Learn to Expect the Unexpected (3)).

All those interactions can cause misunderstanding and conflict, which may have an impact on the effect of the health care provided. For example, if you do not speak the language well, you may not fully understand the instructions of the doctor and not carry them out like you should. Or you may really just want antibiotics for your cough whereas the doctor instructs you to simply stay in bed for a while. This does not help your healing process. Awareness of cultural differences is very relevant for healthcare if we want to provide good healthcare to everyone, regardless of their cultural background.

Have you been in a foreign hospital and did you encounter any cultural differences that made the experience more difficult? Or are you working in healthcare yourself and have you treated people from other cultural backgrounds? I am curious to hear your comments!

(1) ‘Ik geloof dat ik een natuurlijk leider ben’, Intermediair, 8 oktober 2012 p. 20-21
(2) Statistics Netherlands, www.cbs.nl
(3) Medical Treatment in a Foreign Country: Learn to Expect the Unexpected

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