Cultural Norms and Patient Outcomes

In our quest to respect various ethnicities and contemplate how family involvement affects health outcomes, it is important to also consider regional cultural variances.  One example of this in the United States is the difference in cultural norms between the northern and southern regions of the country. For example, it is the norm in some of the southern cultures for nearly all family members to gather at the bedside when someone in the family is ill.  While this may play a role in the emotional health of the patient, it is considered a problem in many hospitals where space is a concern and patient care routines are interrupted or compromised.

I was impressed recently when visiting a family member in the ICU of a major teaching hospital in the South to find that the hospital was so attuned to the culture it served that it made provisions for visiting family members to “camp out” in the ICU waiting room.  The hospital provided “cubby holes” for the belongings of the family and friends of the patient. Guitars, sleeping bags, clothing, and stuffed animals protruded from the storage areas in the waiting room.  While this may seem beyond the realm of what a hospital is expected to provide in delivering patient care, it is helpful to patients and their families in this region and has been linked to patient outcomes(Duke, Connor, & McEldowney (2009).

While it is difficult for nurses to be cognizant of all cultural norms,  it is imperative to show respect for differences in people and their cultures, and demonstrate a desire to “seek to understand”  which is key in delivering a higher level of care(McQuaid & Barakat,2012).

McQuaid, E., & Barakat, L. (2012). Introduction to special section: advancing research on the intersection of families, culture, and health outcomes. Journal Of Pediatric Psychology, 37(8), 827-831. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jss081

Duke, J., Connor, M., & McEldowney, R. (2009). Becoming a culturally competent health practitioner in the delivery of culturally safe care: A process oriented approach. Journal Of Cultural Diversity, 16(2), 40-49.



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