When physicians and patients have a common cultural background, patients are more likely to understand the medical information they're given and to truly engage in their care.
"When you talk in the same language with a patient, you get more information, and you're able to give better healthcare," Georgios Karanastasis, M.D., told the Chicago Tribune about serving a large Greek population in his community.
Karanastasis also has a unique understanding that Greek patients can be a "bit more demanding," he told the newspaper, and less likely to see a doctor unless they are sick. With this knowledge, he can meet his patients halfway--by providing more services personally that could be handled by the front desk, for example, while also imparting on them a greater appreciation for preventive care.
As a result of this connection and Karanastasis' active outreach to the Greek community, the Greek population at the family practice where he works has increased 20 to 30 percent since he joined in 2013. The practice has seen similar results in connecting Indian-born patients with Indian doctors, particularly regarding gender-related issues.
Unfortunately, patient access to culturally diverse physicians is not the norm, noted a recent article from the Week. In 2014, only 5.5 percent of physicians and surgeons identified as African-American, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report, and only 6.3 percent as Hispanic. But by 2050, populations considered "minority" today, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, will make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.
State-by-state efforts to bolster the pipeline of diverse physicians and reduce racial disparities are making some progress, however, as Hispanic and African-American enrollees at medical schools rose in 2014, according to the article. A recent report from the journal Academic Medicine also names cultural competency and racial/ethnic health disparities among 20 ethical issues it says medical schools must address with their students.