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How to relate to patients of different cultures and religions

Providing effective assistance and patient care requires taking into account the diversity of traditions, rules, codes of conduct, religious needs and their related ritual practices. Lack of awareness of these aspects can hinder the achievement of “all-round” care of patients. On this premise, a new advisory guide provides a series of suggestions on how to relate to patients from different cultures and religions. An easy-to-read reference booklet, this guide that can be used by healthcare staff, social workers, volunteers, patients and their families, to promote patient-centered care which respects diverse religions and cultural sensibilities, thus ensuring the patient’s dignity.
The vademecum is the outcome of a debate among experts from various sectors – health, religious, and juridical – on those topics that characterize our pluralistic society, which has been influenced by global mass migration and is today facing the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The drafting of the handbook, titled “How to relate to patients of different cultures and religions – An advisory guide with useful questions”, was carried out by the Scientific Committee of the Insieme per prenderci cura (Taking care together) group based in Milan and can be downloaded here for free. Founded in 2015, it is made up of doctors, allied health professionals, university professors, legal experts, community and religious representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, Waldensian, Protestant and Muslim faiths who promote seminars in hospitals and universities.
All participants of the group, among which the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities and the Jewish Medical Association-AME, have had as their agreed baseline for the coming together and setting up of the healthcare staff training programs the ethics of responsibility, respect for different spiritual identities and for the religious values of the patient. Dialogue with the patient, right from the first consultation, is the recommended way forward to achieve holistic care which is respectful of both the physical and spiritual dimensions of each human being.
The main practices and rituals of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions, that would be relevant to hospital settings are outlined in this guide. The same approach is also reiterated in the “Charter of good practice for religious pluralism and spiritual care in health facilities”, found in the appendix of this guide. It is stressed that it is everyone’s responsibility – hospital trusts, healthcare professionals and patients – to guarantee that due attention and spiritual care is practiced in all healthcare facilities, in the context of religious pluralism.
For hospital management of inpatient and outpatient services which aspire to guarantee increasingly efficient and speedy diagnosis and treatment, it is essential to draw on the values and meanings that secular thinking and different monotheistic traditions attribute to the infirm and their caregivers within their family, in society, in healthcare and care facilities.
The ethical dimension and the deepest consideration that underlie any choice of treatment (be it active or passive), together with the patient’s psychological, religious and cultural background and clinical experience, all lead to a holistic approach centered on the patient’s wellbeing, while holding dear the greatest respect for their dignity and their most intimate convictions.