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Better connections and empathy could improve healthcare for ethnic minority patients

Better connections and empathy could improve healthcare for ethnic minority patients

Ethnic minority patients continue to experience a range of problems associated with health care, including treatment lacking empathy, according to a new report led by the University of Westminster.

Many patients from ethnic minority backgrounds were found in a study to experience discrimination and yearned for warmth from healthcare professionals.

The research, published in PLOS ONE, stated that better connections with healthcare professionals could deliver a more positive healthcare experience.

Ethnic minority patients associate stigma, discrimination and unempathetic treatment with health care. The issues have been previously documented, but current healthcare training has failed to rectify these problems, researchers said. This study sought to investigate the social and cultural influences on healthcare interventions for cancer patients and mental health patients from ethnic minority backgrounds to examine how psychological interventions could improve care.

Using a method known as meta-ethnography, which is useful for synthesising and reviewing qualitative research, the researchers analysed 29 relevant papers from between 2018 and 2023 and examined the importance of the nature and quality of relationships between patients and healthcare professionals.

The findings showed that patients longed to have their whole selves and the circumstances in which they lived understood by healthcare professionals. One participant in the study said they needed professionals ‘who will listen to us’ and ‘who will allow us to talk’.

The language used during consultations was shown to be important, with participants placing a high value on warm relationships. Healthcare professionals who interacted more like friends or family could transform care, with participants describing valued professionals as being like their ‘family’.

Others wanted to feel more connected, and one Sudanese participant stated: ‘If she has not won my love, some of the things, it’s not easy to talk about it…’

Professor Kam Bhui from the University of Oxford said: ‘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.’

The researchers concluded that healthcare professionals need training to help develop better connections with patients in order to improve the care for ethnic minority patients.

Lead researcher Professor Damien Ridge from the University of Westminster added: ‘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.’


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