Accreditation & Certification

Understanding Culture in Medical Tourism

Accreditation & Certification

The understanding of cultural issues in medical tourism (Global Healthcare) is a two way process argues Dr. Prem Jagyasi a renowned medical tourism expert and consultant. Several Medical Tourism organizations believe that understanding culture in medical tourism is a one way process and that they only need to understand patients cultural beliefs and behaviors. However it is also necessary for a patient to understand the culture and behavior of the destination. The provider should take the responsibility of making cultural documents related to their destination available to patients.

Educating healthcare providers within a healthcare organization is a unilateral process while educating patients on the other hand is a bilateral process. This will eventually bring comprehensive solutions for issues that arise from cultural diversity. While consulting within a variety of international healthcare organizations I have realized that they are honestly willing to make an effort to educate their staff about understanding the cultural dissimilarity of international patients.

They are also willing to teach providers about key cultural challenges arising from geographies languages religion societies beliefs customs traditions and individual perceptions.But there seems to be a lack of effort on educating patients about what cultural beliefs a healthcare organization is following. Wouldn it be a wonderful solution if a healthcare organization also educates patients about destination related cultural activities?

I argue that both healthcare providers and healthcare consumers (patient) need to understand cultural dissimilarity. I also emphasize that healthcare providers should arrange for such education for their patients a small booklet or video demonstration can do wonders in this regard.Most Healthcare MBA institutes teach Cultural Competency in their program but so far this requirement has been limited to cultural diversity within one geography because most of the patients were coming from one geography with different cultures and beliefs.

However Medical Tourism has turned the situation upside down and now patients come from an entirely different geography which has created a significant need for bilateral cultural understanding.Moreover while consulting international healthcare organizations about the cultural understating of patients my first question always remains the same  Do you understand the cultural beliefs of your organization in relation to healthcare services?

Isn it important to understand internal belief system before you start thinking about external belief systems? There is a great need of overall cultural understanding in Medical Tourism and healthcare.

What is Cultural Diversity?

In simple language cultural diversity can be understood in many different ways. It is often referred to as the mixture of different human groups societies or cultures in a specific geography or in the Globe (as a whole). The diversity could also be understood by differences in race ethnicity nationality religion or language among various groups within a community organization or nation. Individual values beliefs customs traditions and backgrounds also bring cultural diversity.

Why Patient and Healthcare Provider Need Cultural Understanding? Whats Cultural Competency?The ultimate objectives of cultural understanding in Medical Tourism are to: creating a better outcome which minimizes gaps understanding and building awareness of applications avoiding any miscommunication or misunderstanding arising from cultural disbeliefs and providing more positive results with a higher satisfaction rate.

Such processes requires meticulous understanding about what impact cultural disbelief could have on a healthcare practice and understanding patient needs and delivery of healthcare services.One of the key challenges in Medical Tourism is language barriers. It has always been my belief that instead of a general language translator to interpret medical related jobs it is necessary to have a translator that understands medical terminology.

Unfortunately there isn any organization which validates or certifies medical interpreters and there aren any standards for us to follow. Imagine a hospital with high end quality care with the best equipment highly professional staff and with the highest standards of practice that relies on the mercy of a translator. If the interpreter is not up to par the treatment will not be good no matter how good the facilities of the healthcare organization are.

Whats worse is to use a family member as an interpreter just think about the damage this can do to the patient. Unfortunately many patients rely on their family or a relative with poor language understanding rather than a highly qualified interpreter. Recently I overheard an argument between two highly qualified medical professionals about renal failure and kidney dysfunction if such simple words can create very complex situations just imagine how confusing medical jargons can be to patients.

The use of medical jargon can easily -- and unknowingly -- lead to misinformation and incorrect Interpretations that may have an adverse impact on a patients health. Avoiding medical jargon is essential to ensuring the concise exchange of information between patients and physicians. When a patient does not understand the jargon the quality of that patients care may be jeopardized and the comprehension of the physicians message is diminished.

The responsibility to ensure that patient and physician understand one another rests with the physician. It is often pointed out that physicians with wonderful bedside manners and poor outcomes are sued less frequently than physicians with poor bed-side manner and wonderful outcomes.(MJCC)The role of gender dress practices religion and food habits or food beliefs also plays an important role in understating of cultural values.

For instance during month of Ramadan Muslims prefer to fast and they prefer not to consume any oral medications.An understanding of individual needs based on religion ethnicity or geography might not be necessary in every case but this will certainly bring higher satisfaction and an easier healing process as at the end of the day. Also the comfort of a patient will play an important role with the efficiency of their treatment.For instance lets understand the cultural needs of Muslim patients.

Food Services

All catering staff should be aware that only halal meat (i.e. meat slaughtered according to religious requirements) must be given to Muslim patients. They should also be aware that Muslims do not eat pork or any other pig meat and its byproducts. Also hand washing before and after meals is particularly important to Muslims.

Clinical or Nursing Care

It is preferable for a female Muslim to be cared for by females and a male Muslim by males. This is most important during confinement when strict privacy is very essential. Only female health workers should be present and exposure should be kept to a minimum.


Alcohol and any other intoxicating substances are prohibited in Islam. Where a choice exists medicines containing alcohol should not be used. In emergencies this rule does not apply if an alternate drug is not available but this should be explained to the patient. If the medication is necessary then Islam permits its use.

Maternity Services After Delivery

The placenta should be offered to the parents for disposal by burial in accordance with Islamic tradition. Read my article on the Middle Eastern patient for more information on this particular subject: for more details.

Understanding Complex Cultural Needs

Today there is great receptiveness towards Medical Tourism. When patients are traveling overseas there is an emergence of new consumers and they show a completely different behavior pattern. As a result of developments in communication tools information technology and increased social media exchanges they have been exposed to different cultures and developed new ideas and viewpoints. For instance my social network members stand at above 5000+ members across all cultures.

From them I have learned a great deal about their beliefs understandings and way of communication just through social networking.Todays consumer has been exposed to different cultures developed new ideas and cultivated modern viewpoints. They have multiple demands often borrowed from other cultures seasoned with personal beliefs. The new self-sufficient consumer has become more individualistic and requires more customized and highly developed services greater choice quality and variety and good value.

Todays consumers truly have become global their demands have multiplied because of broad cultural exposure.For instance my Australian Muslim friend based in Dubai may want Italian pizza fresh local made bread European mozzarella cheese and halal meat from Malaysia or a place which provides halal meat. Was that possible few years back? No it wasn. But it is possible today and now she can have such a pizza in Dubai.Such complex needs require customized solutions the one size fits all mottos can work here. There should be a comprehensive system in place to educate patients as well as healthcare providers about cultural beliefs dissimilarities and needs.


Globalization across all sectors has brought complex cultural needs in an already culturally diverse world. Understanding culture and behavior was important in healthcare to provide comprehensive care with a delightful experience but it has certainly become essential in Medical Tourism as patients arrive with different cultural beliefs and from different geographies. Understanding of Culture in Medical Tourism is a two way process as the patient needs to understand the destinations cultural beliefs as much as providers need to know and understand the patients cultural beliefs.

About Author

A successful entrepreneur and experienced strategic professional Dr Prem Jagyasi is a renowned Chartered Management Healthcare Marketing and Medical Tourism Consultant. He also serves the Medical Tourism Association - a Non Profit organization based in USA as Honorary Chief Strategy Officer. He is contributed extensively in Medical Tourism and is known for his distinctive thinking and approach in Medical Tourism. He could be contacted at |

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