Personalismo – What’s your approach?
Latino Culture- Personalismo
Last week we explored the cultural basis of latino agreeableness and its effects in the medical setting. We mentioned that the rate of patient compliance can be strongly affected by the relationship between patient and health care worker. But what constitutes a good relationship with a latino patient? We’ve already pointed out the importance of working with the family of latino patients and also that heath care workers hold a position of respect in that they’re seen as authority figures.
However, that’s not the whole picture. The concept of personalismo, often defined as “formal friendliness,” basically means that Latinos place great emphasis on personal relationships. Latin culture is both people-oriented and collectivist, meaning that Latinos generally value personal relationships over status, material gain, and institutional relationships.
So, although a health care provider likely has the immediate respect of a latino patient, that respect may not become trust unless the patient is convinced that the health care provider genuinely cares about them on a personal level. This is explained by the Colorado Children’s Healthcare Access Program:
Latinos may read the neutral or businesslike affect of western doctors as negative. If the physician seems hurried, detached and aloof, the Latino patient/parent may experience resentment and be dissatisfied with care. This of course reduces the likelihood of compliance with the doctor’s recommendations for treatment and follow-up. A physician should be attentive, take their time, show respect, and if possible communicate in Spanish. Physical gestures such as handshakes or even placing a hand on the shoulder help to communicate warmth.
Establishing a good rapport with latino patients may take a few extra minutes, but even small efforts can go a long way. Here are a few things you can do to lay a solid foundation with your latino patients:
- Give a natural, friendly smile and make brief eye contact when welcoming a patient.
- Stand up and shake hands both when greeting a patient and at the end of the visit.
- Invite the patient to sit down, when appropriate.
- Begin the meeting with polite conversation, asking how the patient is, how their family is, and any questions to follow up on other personal details you may know of (i.e. How was your son’s birthday party?)
- Listen carefully when a patient is speaking, and take care not to appear distracted or uninterested.
- Share your own experiences with the patient as a way of making a personal connection.
You may be thinking that these are basic courtesies that should be extended to all patients. The difference is that when basic acts of “personalismo” are skipped with a non-latino patient, it is unlikely to make a difference in the outcome of the treatment. However, failure to connect personally with a latino patient can mean a loss of trust, non-compliance, and that the patient may seek a different source of healthcare altogether.