Worlds Apart is a set of four documentary videos designed to stimulate thought and discussion about the effects of culture on communication and medical decision-making. Each video encapsulates the story of a real patient and his or her interactions with physicians and family.

The four videos are: (1) Kochi Story--an Afghan man, diagnosed with stomach cancer, decides about chemotherapy amidst miscommunication due to translation issues and religious convictions; (2) Chitsena Story--the mother of a four-year-old girl from Laos is caught between physicians who tell her that her daughter needs surgery to correct an atrial septal defect, and her mother who upholds the traditional Khmu beliefs that scars, including surgical scars, are injurious to a person in future lives; (3) Phillips Story--an African-American man on dialysis discusses the prejudices against black people in the health care system, particularly the decreased chances for receiving a renal transplant; (4) Mercado Story--a 60-year-old Puerto Rican woman who lives in Hell's Kitchen, New York City, explains the complex social situation which affects her ability to take care of her chronic health problems, such as diabetes and hypertension.

The films depict the patients and families in various settings--in doctors' offices, at other health care facilities, at home or work, during religious ceremonies. Phillips Story is different in that only the patient speaks during the film--in the other three stories we hear family members, translators, and physicians. The pitfalls of translation by a family member or friend are discussed, as well as the need for the physician to elicit information from patients about the social contexts that may affect their health and decisions.

For example, Mr. Kochi's religious beliefs contravene the use of continuous infusion chemotherapy, but not other regimens--this distinction is not elucidated for many months. Hence cultural competency in health care requires that the provider not assume reasons for patients' behaviors and decisions but rather emphasizes communication to understand the particulars of the situation.


As the films are trigger videos for discussion in educational settings, a facilitator's guide is provided. Written by Alexander Green, Joseph Betancourt and J. Emilio Carrillo, the guide provides not only goals, discussion points, and suggested questions, but also very helpful background information on the patients and cultures presented.

The films provide much needed insight into how, even with the best intentions, miscommunication can occur. The videos are well edited and, despite their brevity, do not oversimplify the complex nature of diversity in health care. There are some delightful moments as well. For instance, a Buddhist monk gives a prayer string to the little girl in story 2, as he holds a cell phone in his other hand. One could also envision these videos used in conjunction with other works which highlight cultural issues, such as Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down or Michael S. Harper's Nightmare Begins Responsibility (see this database).


Individual segments run for 10-14 min each. The video won the Silver Medal, Health and Science Communications Association, International Media Festival, 2004. For further information, see:

Primary Source

Fanlight Productions (