Tanenbaum Goes to Washington

Given the growing diversity in our country, and the significant role that religion plays in health care, how is it that less than one in ten physicians ask about their patients’ religious beliefs? What are the dangers of ignoring this issue, when 84% of the U.S population self-defines as religious?   And why does the cultural competency movement generally mention – but then fail to explicitly address – the impact of religious decisions on patient decision making? 

These are some questions Tanenbaum sought to highlight and address during a briefing with key staff members at the Department of Health and Human Services, organized by the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 
 
Tanenbaum presented on the current implications of addressing religio-cultural competence to the delivery of health care in the United States, illustrating the multi-layered role that religion plays in a health care setting. Ultimately we demonstrated that implementing religio-culturally competent practices can reduce health care disparities and improve patient-centered and culturally competent care.
 
A lack of religio-cultural competency can marginalize certain religious communities, creating health disparities. For instance, Muslim women have higher breast cancer mortality rates and studies have shown that Muslim women often avoid breast cancer screenings and delay seeking care because screenings are not structured in a manner that is consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs.   Addressing these obstacles can often be as simple as making a few inexpensive adjustments. For instance, a hospital in Maine noticed that the substantial female Muslim population in their area was not coming in for care. After identifying that the women had modesty concerns over wearing flimsy hospital gowns and offering a gown that provided more coverage, the hospital experienced a lasting increase in Muslim women coming in for preventive care. 
 
Making leaders in our health care system aware of the need for religious and cultural competency, and providing practical solutions for addressing this need, will ultimately result in diverse patient populations having access to more respectful, efficient, and effective care.