Enhancing Health Care for Immigrant and Refugee Populations

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Bern has developed a two-week exchange program on Enhancing Health Care for Immigrant and Refugee Populations. Five experts from the Swiss health sector participated in the program. The core topics of the exchange were migrant health, mental health, and health literacy.

On 27 October 2018, the Swiss group arrived in Washington DC. They spent the first few days in the U.S. capital meeting with various health policy and migration organizations and authorities regarding U.S. methods for responding to refugees.  They also learned about advanced nursing practices and culturally appropriate health care services. The group went to Reno, Nevada for the second leg of the trip. In Reno, the participants discussed case management and coordinated care, as well as personalized medicine and trauma support for refugees. The third and final destination led the Swiss delegation to the east coast.  In Buffalo, New York, they focused on services in health and resettlement centers, culturally sensitive health screening and health literacy initiatives for refugees.

Acquiring new information and best practices along with the opportunity to network internationally are both highly important aspects of such exchange programs.  Additionally, exchange participants get the chance to share impressions, insights and experiences with an interested audience back home, just as these participants did recently at a gathering of health sector professionals at the U.S. Embassy in Bern.

The Swiss exchange participants were particularly impressed in the so-called one-stop shops. These are holistic centers designed for refugees and migrants that, in addition to a whole range of health care services, also provide social services and educational opportunities — such as learning a foreign language. There are similar approaches in Switzerland that, however, only focus on health care. Migrants and refugees also have less access to such centers in the U.S. than in Switzerland, the participants noted.

The group also reported that Americans are also highly responsive to refugees’ and immigrants’ language needs. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Therefore, health care providers that receive federal funding are required to provide language access services for their patients. As a result, hospitals and health centers offer a wide range of translated information and provide simultaneous translation for non-English speaking patients.

This Swiss participants were also impressed with U.S. migrant resettlement practices, which aim to help migrants become economically independent as quickly as possible. In the United States, immigrants immediately receive a work permit and have a path to U.S. citizenship after about five years. This acts as strong motivation for immigrants to become self-sufficient, assimilate, and contribute to society.

Other topics, which attracted attention, were videoconference patient consultations, the use of electronic patient files, organizing professional fundraisers for research, as well as advanced nursing practices. The highly motivated participants summarized the U.S. experience saying: “Many outcomes will follow from this as we continue to work to enhance health care for immigrant and refugee populations in Switzerland.”