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Journal ArticleDOI

What "patient-centered care" requires in serious cultural conflict.

01 Jan 2012-Academic Medicine (Acad Med)-Vol. 87, Iss: 1, pp 20-24

TL;DR: The author examines the tension that occurs when culturally sensitive patient-centered care disrupts the workflow of the service, requires acknowledging antithetical, unsupportable values, or entails discriminatory or ad hominem practices that constitute a personal insult or affront to the provider.
Abstract: The medical community has hailed the recent movement to provide patient-centered care as a progressive step forward in meeting the needs of the very diverse patient population of the United States. Stakeholders in all arenas of U.S. medicine-professional organizations, public advocacy groups, hospital administration, medical school leadership, insurance carriers, and nursing-have embraced the focus on patient-centered care. But, although the community universally endorses the ideal of patient-centered care, the ethical obligations it entails have only just begun to be explored. One of the most difficult circumstances in which to provide patient-centered care is when there is a deep cultural conflict-that is, when the values and priorities of the patient and his or her family are in direct opposition to those of the clinical team. Given the mandate to provide care that is "culturally and linguistically appropriate," the author asks what obligations providers have to meet patient demands when doing so is inconvenient, challenging, or, at the extreme, offensive and contrary to clinical values. The author examines the tension that occurs when culturally sensitive patient-centered care disrupts the workflow of the service, requires acknowledging antithetical, unsupportable values, or entails discriminatory or ad hominem practices that constitute a personal insult or affront to the provider. The strategy the author has invoked for this analysis is to search for common values that might provide a bridge between patients and providers who are in deep cultural conflict.
Topics: Cultural conflict (55%), Medical ethics (52%), Applied ethics (50%), Cultural competence (50%)

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1
What “Patient-Centered Care” Requires in Serious Cultural Conflict
Autumn Fiester, PhD
Dr. Fiester is the Associate Director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for
Bioethics and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Medical Ethics at the
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Autumn Fiester, PhD
Center for Bioethics
3401 Market Street
Suite 320
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: (215) 573-2602
Fax: (215) 573-3036
fiester@mail.med.upenn.edu
No external funding to report.

2
Abstract
The recent movement to provide “patient-centered care” has been hailed as a
progressive step forward in meeting the needs of the very diverse patient population of
the United States. The focus on patient-centered care has been embraced at all levels of
American medicine: professional organizations, public advocacy groups, hospital
administrators, medical school leadership, insurance carriers, and nursing schools. But
while the ideal of patient-centered care is universally endorsed, the ethical obligations it
entails have only begun to be explored. One of the most difficult circumstances in
which to provide patient-centered care is in deep cultural conflict, where the values and
priorities of the patient are in direct opposition to those of the clinical team. Given the
mandate to provide care that is “culturally and linguistically appropriate,” the author asks
what obligations providers have to meet patient demands when it is inconvenient,
challenging, or, at the extreme, offensive and antithetical to mainstream values.
Bariers are examined that patient-centered care in such cases is disruptive to the
work-flow of the service, requires acknowledgement of illegitimate values, or entails
discriminatory practices that constitute a personal insult or affront to the provider. The
strategy invoked for this analysis is a search for common values that might provide a
bridge between patients and providers in deep cultural conflict. The author concludes by
responding to these important barriers to providing patient-centered care.

3
What “Patient-Centered Care” Requires in Serious Cultural Conflict
Consider the impasse between the patient and the clinician in the following case:
A male radiologist is called by the ED to perform an evaluation for an
intra-uterine pregnancy. The patient has come to the ED with bleeding and
abdominal pain. The patient's beta-HCG is around 250. When the radiologist
arrives in the patient’s room, he finds her covered in a burqa, and the patient's
husband explains that she needs to remain covered and that the male radiologist
will not be allowed to perform the necessary exam. The patient says nothing.
There appears to be no language barrier.
In the context of the recent movement to provide “patient-centered care,” cases like this
one present a serious challenge to the clinical team: what the patient – or at least the
person speaking for the patient – considers necessary for her values to be protected is in
direct conflict not only with the standard of care, but with the standard operating
procedures in contemporary US medical settings. The standard of care in a suspected
ectopic pregnancy is a diagnostic vaginal ultrasound, and the standard operating
procedure is that the clinician assigned to the case (of whatever gender) does the exam
and the exam is performed in a hospital gown. Against the backdrop of the already
almost unmanageable clinical load in US emergency departments, what type of attention
and accommodation does “patient-centered care” demand when that effort threatens to

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