Getting Minority Patients' Points of View about Cultural Barriers to Health Care

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, conducted in-depth interviews with 38 Mexican and 45 Vietnamese immigrants at medical facilities in Northern California to understand minority and immigrant patients' views and experiences of cultural barriers in health care in the United States.

The study was part of a three-phase project designed to explore how policy-makers and health care professionals construct their notions of "culturally competent" health care.

Key Findings

  • Patients offered limited response to direct questions such as, "Do you think there are cultural differences between you and your doctor?" or "Have you ever felt that your doctors fail to understand your culture?" "Culture" is an elusive term, the researchers explained. Researchers will need to formulate better questions than are currently used in many clinics if they seek to learn how culture works in these patients' clinical encounters.
  • Contrary to expectation, not all patients expressed a preference for a physician of their own racial/ethnic group.
  • The "vast majority" of patients wanted more health care providers who spoke their language.
  • Age and geographic background influenced some patients' choice and preference for alternative therapies over allopathic (conventional) medicines.
  • Some patients in both groups said the care they received at community clinics was "second class" compared with the health services that were available at hospitals and private clinics.