Ming-Cheng Lo and Roxy Bahar's article, "Resisting the Colonization of the Lifeworld? Immigrant Patients' Experiences with Co-Ethnic Healthcare Workers," has been published in the current issue of Social Science and Medicine.
This article analyzes how “ethnic concordance” (i.e., matching the ethnicity of patients and healthcare workers) shapes patients' experiences of clinical interaction. Adopting the Habermasian framework of lifeworld-medicine contention, we inductively analyze 60 in-depth interviews with low-income LEP (limited English proficiency) Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants, which were conducted in a metropolitan area in Northern California between January 2006 and April 2007. Our findings indicate that, net of linguistic concordance, ethnic concordance appeared to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem of “the colonization of the lifeworld.” Patients often felt that co-ethnic healthcare workers introduced additional power struggles from other systems, such as boundary work among co-ethnic immigrants, into the institution of healthcare. Likewise, immigrant patients sometimes racialized the professional competence and virtues of healthcare providers, ranking co-ethnic doctors below white doctors. While these two general themes characterize the experiences of ethnic concordance among both Mexican and Vietnamese patients, the comparison between the two groups also highlights some differences. Existing research has documented the impacts of ethnic concordance, but little is known about patients' subjective experiences of these interactions. Our findings address this empirical gap. Drawing heavily on the Habermasian theoretical framework, our research in turn broadens this framework by showing how both lifeworld and medicine can become distorted by strategic actions in other systems, such as class and immigration, in which the American healthcare system has become deeply imbedded.