Letters To The Editor

Caring for international patients

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To the Editor: We read with great interest the article by Drs. Cawcutt and Wilson on caring for international patients. 1 They provide an overview of the challenges of delivering medical care for these patients (eg, cultural differences) and the likely benefits from such interactions (eg, gaining cultural knowledge). Having practiced medicine in 3 different continents and experienced working in various medical centers caring for international patients, we would like to offer a slightly different viewpoint.

First, gaining cultural knowledge should be regarded as a prerequisite for healthcare workers involved in the care of international patients, rather than the expected benefit and consequence of such encounters. Healthcare workers with some knowledge of an international patient’s culture are best able to serve that patient. 2 Indeed, unless knowledge of cultural differences is obtained before such interactions, there is a significant risk of stereotyping by amplifying the sense of “otherness,” which is unfortunately too often mistaken for cultural sensitivity. The perception of the stereotypes and prejudices during the second stage of cultural adaptation (ie, irritation, hostility) often stems from the host’s lack of cultural knowledge. Table 1 of their article clearly reflects such risk: the authors have tried to exemplify the concepts they discussed through a number of real-life scenarios. But indeed some of those cases (eg, the man from Saudi Arabia) could be interpreted more as examples of stereotyping than cultural sensitivity.

Second, the authors do not mention requests by family members of international patients for nondisclosure of serious medical diagnoses, one we have frequently received from family members from different cultural backgrounds. These requests represent another challenge of caring for these patients as they counter our obligation for full disclosure and the patients’ right to know in order to be able to make informed decisions regarding their medical care. 3

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