Letters To The Editor

In reply: Caring for international patients

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In Reply: We appreciate the comments, and we fully agree about the dangers of blurring sensitivity and stereotyping in medicine. We also recognize that health providers working around the world have distinct backgrounds and unique perspectives, which serve to enrich the discussion.

We agree that gaining cultural knowledge should be a prerequisite for healthcare workers. However, healthcare providers may not uniformly have the opportunity, time, or resources for this training. Additionally, providers working in large group practices including referral and academic medical centers often do not have control over scheduling of patient appointments. Therefore, rather than prohibiting the evaluations of international patients, we advocate for the utilization of a few guiding and common principles to optimize a mutually beneficial patient care experience. Despite inherent inadequacies and potential prejudices, healthcare providers do learn through patient encounters. Within this learning environment, mistakes will be made, but there are also opportunities for further self-improvement.

We agree there is a fine line between sensitivity and stereotyping, along with common misunderstandings regarding patient labeling. Identifying the geographic homeland of a patient could be misconstrued as intent to stereotype patients. However, numerous infectious diseases and many noncommunicable syndromes are disproportionately represented within select countries. Thus, we feel the identification of a patient’s homeland along with ethnicity, age, gender, and pertinent socioeconomic details can be done respectfully and remain an important collective part of the active medical history and serve to optimize care for each patient. Within medical education, we often find ourselves generalizing patient presentations and symptom profiles.

Yet we must recognize that the generalized concepts cannot apply to everyone. Medicine remains a profession of humility—both in our willingness to consider additional diagnoses and in our openness to care for patients of different backgrounds. With this humility, we hope to avoid the pitfalls of patient stereotyping, misjudgments, and misunderstandings.

Finally, the nondisclosure of serious medical diagnoses at the request of family members can be a tricky issue. It can be most difficult to balance unique wishes of a family with the ethics of accurate patient communication and compliance with legal statutes and medical center policies. We advocate a team approach with family members of international patients as a way to avoid breaches in medical ethics or breaks in mutual family trust.

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Benefits and challenges of caring for international patients

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