Lille, France: Over the course of a few sunny October days, the Catholic University of Lille hosted the annual congress of SIETAR France. SIETAR stands for Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research, and its purpose is to encourage the development and application of knowledge, values and skills which enable effective intercultural and interethnic relations.
Dr. Franck Scola presented his full day workshop on the “Need for Customized Medical Services for Professional Expatriates and Accompanying Families”; a novel topic that receives limited attention from Global Mobility and HR professionals. Dr. Scola is not only the doctor at an international school, but also a researcher (SIETAR, AIEP, Dauphine, Paris 13) as well as a certified intercultural mediator and trainer (health, corporate and academic context). He argues that the mobility of the modern-day workforce in terms of international relocation has not only an impact on the social and psychological state of the employee and family, but also affects them physically. The change of physical, cultural, linguistic and social environment and changed access to proper and adequate medical care has a demonstrated impact on life as a couple, as a professional and as a developing child. Since an expatriation is often considered a privilege, there is little known research into the vulnerable state of transition that a professional and his family finds themselves in.
In order to not only acknowledge, but also appropriately and effectively respond to the specific needs and potential cultural differences in health care (e.g. patient to caretaker relationship, different cultural interpretations of diseases, who and how to consult), medical staff, HR/Global Mobility professionals, and MNC* management must be further educated and coordinate their efforts. Providing a list of native language-speaking doctors is not a sufficient response to the physical and psychological needs during an expatriation. The main challenges of effective medical care in cross-cultural situations besides the linguistic barrier are:
•Lack of knowledge about the medical system in the host country
•Being sick whilst out of your comfort zone (non-objective determinants that influence a diagnosis are often undermined)
•Cultural differences of the patient and the medical staff (i.e. behaviors and descriptions of symptoms can be interpreted differently, different expectations towards medical staff and health care facilities and services)
•Risk of expatriate network taking on the role of a medical advisor (often not well-informed, biased evaluations of medical care in host country, word of mouth recommendations)
Dr. Scola’s goals are that all involved parties work together to create a system that buffers the potential risks of expatriation (physical, psychological and social risks). In order to do so, expatriation-specific measures for prevention, as well as anticipated access to adapted medical care should be put in place to ensure the health and safety of expatriated staff and their families with adequate medical support and proper understanding of their situation.