Lost in the Translation: Minority and Ethnic Groups in Health Care

Research on U.S. culture, ethnicity and health care

Faculty at Harvard Medical School's Center for the Study of Culture and Medicine explored the influence and effects of culture and ethnicity on the access to and quality of health care services from an anthropology perspective.

The project's two primary activities included developing and holding a seminar at Harvard Medical School led by the grant's project coordinator that explored and critiqued existing literature on the effects of culture and ethnicity on health care services; and producing a series of clinical case studies that examined the role of culture and ethnicity within an actual care-delivery setting.

Key Findings

  • The work resulted in eight book chapters, three articles, a journal review, and 10 lectures. Among the findings:

    • The medical profession has largely failed to address the disadvantages suffered by poorer (predominantly minority) Americans in the areas of health and health care.
    • The traditionally exclusive focus by health professionals on symptoms and disease often impedes health care delivery to ethnic minority patients.
    • Proper care delivery is often hampered by inadequate, inappropriate (i.e. the use of a family member) or non-existent interpreter services.
    • Medical providers are apt to misattribute problems resulting from economic disadvantage (i.e. the inability to keep an appointment because an individual cannot miss work) to cultural influences. Conversely, cultural issues are neglected and misinterpreted as stemming from economic disadvantage.
    • The literature review revealed demographic evidence showing a dramatic increase in the minority populations suffering from access problems and forecasts even greater increases into the next century.