Medical assistants who have Muslim patients of the Islamic religion will need to understand their cultural and spiritual beliefs. This includes diet, views on modesty/privacy, any possible restrictions involving touching the patient and the views on alcohol. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world so it is very likely that a medical assistant will be helping someone that follows the Islamic religion at some point in their career. Islam contains multiple ethnicities, each with their own views regarding illness and healthcare. Because of this it could provide those who are not of the Islamic faith a challenge in providing care.
Muslim patients might express concerns about modesty especially if the person treating them is of the opposite sex. If the patient is female then she will need to be given enough time to cover her body completely before anyone can enter the room. She may also request that she remain dressed (if possible) for exams or that a family member be in the room with her during the exam. If the patient is male then they might find being examined by a member of the opposite sex to be uncomfortable. In fact there should be no touching, even shaking of hands, done by people of the opposite sex that are not family members. Some might even consider avoiding eye contact as a sign of modesty.
The patients might request a diet that is in accordance with their religious laws for “Halal” food. Some might simply request a vegetarian diet to avoid things that are prohibited by their religion like pork and gelatin. This diet my also affect the kind of medications that they can take. Medications that contain alcohol, gelatin or has anything pork in it is prohibited. Any concerns that the patient or family may have should be addressed and perhaps with advice from an imam.
During the month of Ramadan (April to May), Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn until sundown. Doctors would need to discuss with the patients as to whether it is medically safe for the patient to fast while in the hospital. If it is deemed as being ok for the patient to do so, then options would need to be found for pre-dawn meals. Then in the late afternoon, following the traditional way to break the daily fast, provide the patient with dates and spring water. Then have dinner served after sunset. If any patient is not well enough is not required to participate in the observance of Ramadan.
It will be important to understand the Islamic faith and the impact it has on the way you can provide healthcare to Muslim patients. Medical assistants as well as any other healthcare provider, will need to understand and be aware of the rules for privacy, touching, dietary restrictions and medications that they are not allowed to take. It will be important for a clinic/hospital to observe the cultural beliefs in a sensitive and professional manner. For example avoiding physical and eye contact between the patient and healthcare providers if they are not the same sex. Male healthcare providers will most likely need to communicate thru the husband if the patient is female. An example would be if the doctor or medical assistant asked a question and the patient remains quiet then the husband should be asked instead. During a physical exam then having a physician of the same sex would be the best thing. If that is is not possible then having another person that is the same sex as the patient should be in the room to make the patient feel more comfortable. The patient should also be advised as to which article of clothing would need to be removed for the exam and return it immediately after the exam is done to minimizes exposure.
If I knew that the patient was Muslim, I would treat them the same as any other patient only with respect to their religious views. I would make sure that no one entered a room, including myself, without giving a female patient enough time to properly cover herself as their custom requires. I would also ask permission before entering in case they are still not decent or wanting visitors (if admitted). If it was a male patient then I would request that another male medical assistant do the exams because their culture states that only family members of the opposite sex can touch the male patient. If this was for a gynecological visit and the physician was male, then I would make sure that there was a female inside the room with him. I would also accommodate any family members in the room that the patient would request. I would make sure that in any exam that I would request minimal clothing to be removed to minimize exposure.
One of the changes that I would make in a clinic is that the healthcare workers that work in that clinic have some knowledge as to the culture/religious requirements are so that we can make sure the patient feels safe as well as respected. I would make sure that any dietary restrictions were noted in their medical record if they are admitted. I would also do research on medication to make sure that there was no pork product, alcohol or gelatin in the ingredients. Every patient should be treated with respect and made to feel safe when visiting no matter the background. If something is not understood then we can ask the patient questions because it would show the patient that we want to provide the best healthcare we can while following what their culture/religion allows. If not the patient then we could speak with an Imam so that we can better understand the cultural and religious views regarding healthcare.
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