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Cultural Competence in Healthcare: A Guide

Guide: Cultural Competence in Healthcare

National health is progressing, but health disparities continue among culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Organizations that foster cultural competence can improve communication and produce better health outcomes.

Effective healthcare cannot exist without communication. Unfortunately, language barriers continue to present challenges for health systems across the U.S.

Limited-English proficient (LEP) patients are more likely to be hospitalized, receive unnecessary tests, and experience delays in diagnosis. These disparities often result from a misunderstanding of the patient's symptoms and medical history due to miscommunication. To effectively provide culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare services, it's imperative that organizations understand cultural competency and put it to practice.


What Is Cultural Competency?

Cultural competency is compatible behaviors, attitudes, and policies incorporated into a system, agency, or profession that facilitates effective understanding in cross-cultural situations. A person's or group's culture refers to patterns of behavior that have become integrated into their daily life and worldview, such as language, thought patterns, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions associated with ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups. 

To be considered competent, an individual, group, or organization must have the ability to function with efficiency within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs of consumers and their communities.


What Does It Take?

To function with effective cultural competency, health systems must include:

  • Effective communication with all patients, regardless of native language, through access to professional language services
  • Defined values and principles that facilitate working cross-culturally through demonstrated behaviors, attitudes, structures, and policies in all provided services
  • The ability to value diversity, conduct self-analysis and assessment, manage dynamics of diversity, acquire and integrate cultural knowledge, and accommodate the cultural context and diversity of the communities served


What Are the Benefits?

Cultural competency helps improve the care provided to patients with diverse beliefs, languages, values, traditions, and behaviors. Through the incorporation of cultural competency in care plans, healthcare professionals can effectively interact with patients of diverse backgrounds. Benefits of cultural competency include:

  • Improved patient data collection
  • Improved preventative care and compliance by patients and caregivers
  • Reduction in care disparities in the LEP patient population
  • Reduction in medical errors, which increases cost savings
  • Reduction in the number of unnecessary treatments
  • Reduction in the number of missed medical visits
  • Improved efficiency of care services
  • Elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in the care provided


Making Progress

Incorporating and implementing a plan of cultural competencies into your health system makes a difference. The adoption of cultural competency is making progress across the nation, but there's still work to be done. 

The remedy can begin with simple steps such as including language access awareness into staff training schedules. Cultural competency is a developmental process that needs to evolve over a period of time. To be most effective, cultural competency should be part of an organization's policymaking, administration, service delivery, and business practices.

Cultivating cultural competency begins with effective, meaningful communication. If you're interested in finding out about GLOBO's cultural competency training, get in touch today. 

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