How clinicians can honor Indigenous patients.

How clinicians can honor Indigenous patients.

There are more than 570 recognized tribes in the United States representing 9.7 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Nearly half of them receive health care from the Indian Health Service (IHS). It is historically underfunded; even match the level of care provided to federal prisoners, funding would have to nearly double, according to an analysis by the National Congress of American Indians.

As a consequence, Native Americans and Alaska Natives continue to die at higher rates than other Americans in many categories of preventable illness. For example, Indigenous birthing people are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from avoidable complications of pregnancy and childbirth than white birthing people.

Since the beginning of colonialism, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have faced public health tragedies. It is considered a continuous genocide imposing social determinats of health that are inhumane and entirely preventable.

Upholding Indigenous traditions in care settings is a small step in decolonizing health care and showing respect.

For clinicians who wish to improve their cultural competence by recognizing non-allopathic medicine and healing practices, here are some care tips:

  • Use inclusive words, such as non-allopathic (a.k.a. Indigenous medicine, Chinese medicine, etc.) and allopathic (a.k.a. western medicine).

  • Acknowledge non-allopathic medicine and healing practices.

  • Open the discussion to both non-allopathic healing practices and allopathic modalities. 

  • Respect cultural differences in treatment modalities. If a patient is self-treating with a method that is unfamiliar to you or not consistent with your practice of medicine, meet them halfway rather than taking a hard line approach.
  • Ask questions when you don't know. Research before coming to conclusions.
  • While honoring culture and bodily autonomy, if you know the non-allopathic medicine or healing practice isn't safe or may counteract, ask if there's another non-allopathic alternative that could align with your patient's overall care plan. Steer clear of stigmatizing, othering, or shaming.

  • Indigenous communities are overcriminalized. Consider the implications of recording certain sensitive information about your patients.
  • Explore internal bias. What is something you or your family uses for healing that may not be considered western or allopathic medicine? Would you feel comfortable talking about it with your health care provider?
  • Consider implementing non-allopathic modalities in your everyday practice.

Want to unlock more insights and tips to better care for Indigenous patients? Book a demo with Violet today to explore our e-learnings, such as “Working with patients who use non-allopathic medicine/healing practices.”

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