More than 20 million people worldwide can be classified as refugees – those forced to flee their home countries due to fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, etc. Family physicians are well positioned to care for these patients. Three tips can help.
1. Be aware of the unique health status of refugees. Prior to their arrival in the United States, refugees often have had little to no prior medical care, and some of them may have “exotic” or unfamiliar infectious diseases. They also tend to have increased incidence of emotional and physical trauma, undiagnosed and untreated chronic medical conditions, lack of preventive health screenings, potential family dysfunction due to social disruption, and difficulty navigating the health system, which can affect their ability to coordinate referrals or advocate for self or family. These issues may be difficult to address in the standard 15-minute office visit. Scheduling frequent and regular follow-up visits can increase the therapeutic alliance and ensure thoroughness of care.
2. Identify community partners. Refugees' needs often include housing assistance, employment, insurance, and other social concerns that most practices aren't equipped to handle. Creating connections with community-based resources such as Volags (10 agencies that have cooperative agreements with the State Department to provide refugee assistance), social services, health departments, and volunteer groups interested in supporting care for refugees will help foster trust between refugee patients and clinicians and may positively affect health outcomes.
3. Address barriers. Due to language and other cultural barriers, newly resettled refugees may have difficulty understanding the patient appointment process. They may also have transportation challenges, which can contribute to no-shows and late arrivals. Having a single front-office staff member coordinate these patient visits and serve as the point person can improve communication, relieve other staff of these duties, and ultimately help reduce no-show rates.
Adapted from “Building Capacity to Care for Refugees.”
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