Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Hindus: Physical Examinations

As a basic rule, most Hindu patients will prefer to be examined by healthcare staff who are of the same gender as themselves. Privacy is very important and there should be no interruptions during the examination; the unnecessary presence of additional healthcare staff or students should also be avoided.

The extended family of the patient will probably expect to be able to chaperone their relative; young men or boys will usually be chaperoned by their father or brother, young women or girls by their mother or sister, and married women by their husband or sister-in-law.

Hindu women are traditionally modest, shy and quiet, and being in a hospital or healthcare context may reinforce this behaviour. They will probably be reluctant to remove any clothing at all for a physical examination; however, if there is no alternative, then allow them to remain as covered as possible and expose only the area that is to be examined. For tests that require a gown to be worn, either offer a floor-length gown that closes securely at the back with no gaping, or allow the patient to wear a dressing gown over their hospital gown.

Hindus consider menstruation to be spiritually polluting (all body fluids have the potential to pollute the spiritual state) and a woman may be reluctant to have a gynaecological examination during her period. It may be worth checking this with a female patient when making any appointments that might involve a physical examination. Also, some Hindu staff may prefer not to examine a menstruating female.

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During an examination, care must be taken not to remove or soil any sacred objects that are worn by a Hindu patient, for example jewellery, threads or bhindi. Careful handling of religious items is also important; for example, if a man's scared thread needs to be removed for surgery, then it must never be placed on the floor, near to feet or shoes, or where it might be contaminated by body fluids.