Guide

Cultural considerations and health disparities for AAPI communities.

Inclusive Language Illustration

Cultural considerations and health disparities for AAPI communities.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently make up around 7% of the US population with projections showing that there will be more than 46 million Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the US by 2060. Multiracial Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 14% of the AAPI US population.

What you can do: 

  • Historically the US health care system has categorized AAPI communities as a monolith, not attuning to the unique individual needs of AAPI patients seeking treatment. It is important to understand the diversity of culture, experience, language, health care needs and use of clinical spaces in different communities.
  • With Asian American and Pacific Islander patients, you may encounter people who are multiracial. They embrace multiple identities and may take traits from one or more racial group, which can inform their health care experiences and treatment preferences.

Many AAPI patients have varied cultural views on mental health and mental health care in addition to inherited or experienced historical trauma, which means there are many considerations to take into account when treating AAPI patients.

What you can do: 

  • Understand the roots of and acknowledge patient health beliefs. Being seen, validated, and understood are important to developing trust and rapport.
  • Identify your patient’s priorities. In many AAPI cultures, the preferred method of treatment is holistic wellness care, generally achieved through acupuncture, meditation, prayer, herbal and tea remedies, and more. Asking about and acknowledging patient views is important to gain an understanding of their health priorities.
  • Patients may consider food a treatment for health conditions, including using “hot” and “cold” foods to balance energy. Being open to working alongside existing patient health care practices will allow for a more integrative treatment plan.

Misdiagnosis is common for AAPI communities, including for conditions such as diabetes and mental health diagnoses.

What you can do:

  • Asian Americans have almost a 50% higher risk of developing diabetes than their non-Asian peers and the common form of diabetes in the AAPI population is type 2. BMI in AAPI patients is not an accurate indicator of diabetes risk because patients develop diabetes as lower BMIs, while appearing “thinner” and “healthier.” Checking for deposits of fat near the waistline is a better indicator of diabetes risk.
  • Symptoms of mental health issues in the AAPI communities population may differ from “typical symptoms” presented in psychological and psychiatric diagnostic manuals. This, coupled with the historical lack of culturally competent care can lead to misdiagnosis or nondiagnosis and incorrect mental health treatment for AAPI patients.

Mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression, have drastically increased with the increase and racism and hostility towards AAPI communities across the United States.

What you can do: 

  • Acknowledging the racialization of Covid-19, providing culturally tailored psychoeducation and using collaborative care models can facilitate increased access to care and appropriate treatment for AAPI communities.
  • LGBTQ+ AAPI youth face additional stressors and mental health care treatment should be culturally salient and affirmative, and equip families to better support the youth in their lives.

Things to consider.

01

When you are working with AAPI patients, make sure that you take each of their identities (e.g. cultural background, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.) into consideration during interactions, communication and treatment.

02

Identify your patient’s views of illness, wellness and treatment, and priorities when coming in for clinical care and create collaborative goals.

Question to think about:

How does my patient’s background inform how they talk to me about their symptoms, feelings, and illnesses?

Ask for pronouns
Ask how the patient is doing
Ask for consent before touching
All of the above