Cultural Competency While Treating Filipino Patients

A number of different factors contribute to the growing need for cultural competency within the health care field.  Of course it is important for those in the health care field to continually increase their knowledge and broaden quality service.  However, the most important factor in the need for cultural competency is the changing and diverse demographic.  One source notes that, “Culturally sensitive care is essential to create the optimal patient-centered experience; effective patient-provider communication; delivery of high-quality, evidence-based services; achievement of positive treatment outcomes; and high patient/family satisfaction rates” (Gertner, et al., 2010, p. 129).  Filipinos account for a large portion of the Asian American population today, so it is important to become acquainted with the cultural practices and beliefs, healthcare perspectives and practices, family views, environment, education, religion, and dietary practices of the people.

“Census data project that by 2030, four of every ten Americans will identify themselves as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group” (Dreachslin, 2007, p. 79).  It is more imperative than ever for health care practitioners to understand patients and their diverse needs.   Sources state that, “African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics are more likely than whites to experience difficulty communicating with their physician, to feel that they are treated with disrespect when receiving health care services, and to experience barriers to care, including lack of insurance or a regular doctor” (Dreachslin, 2007, p. 80).  Although many of these groups may not have experienced outright disrespect or mistreatment, the cultural variations may in fact lead them to that conclusion and understanding.  Many institutions are working on the barriers that separate patients from practitioners, hindering their health care and perspective on the quality of treatment they receive.

The Philippines is a nation that consists of 7,000 islands and many dialects.  The national language of the Philippines is Tagalong (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 22).  In the United States, Filipino American citizens tend to speak a mixed variation of Tagalong and English.  However, English is the second language in the Philippines, and the country has been under American rule for many years.  There may not be many language barriers as far as the direct understanding of the English language is concerned.  However, it is important to note that there are customary language practices within the culture which are different from those in the United States.  For instance, Filipinos take offense when referred to directly.  In their culture it is rude to speak assertively directly to an individual (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 25).  In an attempt to maintain the highest quality of medical treatment, it may be wise to avoid such communication faux pas.

Spain greatly influenced the Philippines in earlier times.  Thus, the Catholic faith is the predominant religion of the Philippines (Asian Journal San Diego, 2013).  It is important to note religious customs when working with patients.  Many religious attitudes reflect how a patient may view his or her sickness, injury, life, and/or death.  For example, many Filipinos express, “There is a deep faith in God that is reflected in the expression of bahala na—‘it is up to God’ or ‘leave it to God” (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 23).  It is important to realize that many Filipino patients may hold the attitude that their life and their circumstances be the will of God.  They may have a positive demeanor and outlook regarding their situation, realizing that seeking health care is the best option, but nothing to fret over because their life is ultimately in the Lord’s hands.

According to Ordonez and Gandeza (2004) “Filipinos are generally sensitive and equally sensitive to the feelings of others, so they try to find a way to say things diplomatically” (p. 23).  Additionally, Filipinos are typically quiet.  They tend to be extremely conservative as well.  Adults do not usually allow children to join into adult conversations unless otherwise invited (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 24).  Furthermore, it would be wise for health care practitioners to implement the same practices when communicating with Filipino patients.  It is important to express empathy, understanding, and diplomatic communication with Filipino patients.  It is imperative to understand how patients communicate in an effort to medically treat them in the best possible fashion.  It is important for patients to feel warm, welcome, and understood when receiving health care.

It may be a good idea to ask Filipino patients if they have any questions throughout the course of treatment.  Since nurses and doctors are professionals, patients of this culture may feel disrespectful if they question or express views regarding their own treatment.  For example, “They are sometimes hesitant to articulate their views, especially if it is different from the majority, as it might indicate discordance with the team or group” (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 24).  Additionally, “When a female Filipino…goes for a medical appointment, she is more likely to accept what her physician says” (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 24).  Because of their culture, Filipinos do not question authority and rarely seek medical second opinions.

Close family ties are an important part of the Filipino culture.  They value the opinion and thoughts of their family members and respect their elders.  Filipinos tend to interact with others of their own ethnicity and culture, thus continuing common traditions, practices and customs.

Filipinos believe in natural homeopathic treatments, health care alternatives, and disease prevention.  “The practice of self-healing and self-treatment prevents them from getting early formal medical access and interventions. This poses a great concern to most health care providers, as Filipino[s]…only seek medical care when their medical condition is already very serious or in an advanced stage” (Ordonez & Gandeza, 2004, p. 25).  However, many of their healthy habits keep these patients from needing medical care at all.  The Filipino people practice three key health benefits comprising of flushing, heating, and protection.  Flushing maintains a healthy body free from outside impurities, heating maintains a healthy body temperature, and protection safeguards the body from outside impacts (Asian Journal San Diego, 2013).

Although Filipino patients often avoid seeking professional medical treatment, they do turn up in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the nation.  It is crucial to maintain increased sensitivity because it facilitates rapport and trust amongst health care professionals and patients.  While treating Filipino patients implement understanding and empathy, make sure all of their questions are answered knowing that they will not typically ask questions, value their spiritual and familial ties, and acknowledge their natural health habits and diet while encouraging them to seek the counsel of a professional when the health matter is serious or persisting (Dreachslin, 2007).  Filipinos account for a large portion of the Asian American population today, so it is important to become acquainted with the cultural practices and beliefs, healthcare perspectives and practices, family views, environment, education, religion, and dietary practices of the people.


Asian Journal San Diego. (2013). A reflection of Filipino health beliefs & practices. Asian Journal San Diego,

Dreachslin, J. L. (2007). Diversity Management and Cultural Competence: Research, Practice, and the Business Case. Journal of Healthcare Management, 79-86.

Gertner, E. I., Sabino, J. N., Mahad, E., Deitric, L. M., Patton, J. R., Grim, M. K., . . . Salas-Lopez, D. (2010). Developing a Culturally Competent Health Network: A Planning Framework and Guide. Journal of Healthcare Management, 190-204.

Ordonez, R. V., & Gandeza, N. (2004). Integrating Traditional Beliefs and Modern Medicine: Filipino Nurses’ Health Beliefs, Behaviors, and Practices. Home Health Care Management & Practice , 22-27.