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Make refugee health care great [again], writes UMN assoc. professor

About 3 million refugees have come to the U.S. over the past four decades. Unlike immigrants, refugees are forced from their homes due to persecution, violence and war. Pew research estimates it can take up to two years for a refugee to actually arrive in the U.S. after beginning the process.

“Health care professionals have a moral obligation to care for patients. Once refugees arrive in the United States, they are members of our community and contributing members of society,” said Ann Philbrick, Pharm.D., associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.

Unfortunately, many health care providers aren’t fully educated on the unique challenges and circumstances refugees may experience, which can negatively influence their care.

Philbrick recently published a commentary detailing these challenges in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health. It is titled “Make Refugee Health Care Great [Again].”

In the commentary, she notes common obstacles refugees face in health care, such as:

  • Language barriers
  • Unsure access to health insurance
  • Navigating the health care system
  • Misalignment of medical treatments with cultural or religious beliefs

For example, some patients may require bovine or pork-based medications or medical devices, which would conflict with some Islamic, Hindu or Jewish beliefs. Those details should be considered when seeking medical consent.

“As the U.S. health care system continues to evolve we should prioritize the development of systems to assist disadvantaged groups, including refugees, to obtain access to timely and appropriate health care,” Philbrick writes.

She gives several recommendations to make that priority a reality:

  • Provide more support to voluntary and non-profit organizations aiding refugees
  • Increase education and awareness of culturally-sensitive care
  • Identify common misconceptions and gaps between health care with cultural beliefs
  • Repair flaws in current health insurance coverage of new refugees to ensure more timely access to care.

“It’s important for healthcare providers to be informed about the refugee process,” Philbrick said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about refugees and I think that healthcare professionals can make a difference in dispelling these. Some of the recommendations require policy change, which provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to become politically active with this cause.”

Read the full commentary and see other ways the University of Minnesota is tackling similar human rights issues.

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