What Is Cultural Competency In Health Care?

What Is Cultural Competency In Health Care?

Cultural competency is an important component of every business, but some industries and professions lend themselves to extra challenges in that department, as their workforce and/or clients are comprised of all races, genders, religions, classes, sexual orientations, and other cultural practices.

One industry that requires utmost attention paid to cultural competence is the health care services. American doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals employ as well as treat people across a vast spectrum of cultural backgrounds. So, it is extremely important for all the medical care personnel is well-versed in recognizing -- and getting on the level of -- different cultures. This is meant to prevent the hospital from making grave mistakes that will:

  • foster misunderstanding/frictions among the medical personnel
  • create medical mistakes and/or rob the patient of their dignity
  • be very costly to rectify financially

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What Is Cultural Competence In The Health Care Industry?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "cultural competence" means:

>...a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural settings.

In other words, both individuals and organizations that operate in a cross-cultural setting like the healthcare industry need to develop a tolerance and respect for different belief systems (within the US legal parameters) in order to do their jobs effectively, harmoniously, and without doing harm/being offensive to others.

Cultural Competence with Coworkers

In addition to personality clashes, coworkers can experience tensions on the basis of cultural differences. Cultural competence training can help reduce (and, with effort, eliminate) incidents of cultural misunderstandings/intolerance among health care colleagues from different backgrounds.

Cultural Competence with Patients

Sometimes medical patients come from a dramatically different cultural background/lifestyle/belief system than the medical care provider -- and this can result in any number of misunderstandings and medical mistakes. When it comes to "snafus" with patients, it is 100% advisable to prevent them rather than deal with the "fallout": this is why anticipatory cultural competency training is a must.

Why Cultural Competence Is Essential In Health And Human Services

Cultural competency in health care is absolutely necessary to a proper functioning of a medial office/facility -- because so much is riding on establishing appropriate communication and subsequent rapport and trust with each patient.

The health and human services industry also employs a very culturally diverse workforce, whose key responsibility is to work in perfect understanding and unison with each other. Again, the patients' lives and wellbeing depends on how well the personnel understand and get along with each other. In such a high-stakes situation, cultural literacy can be as essential as health literacy.

Culture and health care delivery are linked. A person's culture shapes everything from where/how they seek health care, to how they describe their symptoms, to whether or not they stick to the prescribed medications/therapies.

Culturally unprepared physicians can miss or misunderstand important non-verbal cues. For example, refusing to make eye contact may be a sign of respect/reverence in once culture -- and a sign of shyness or even secretiveness from a different cultural interpretation. Here, the physician may completely misread the patient's state of mind.

In some instances, failing to acknowledge a difference in cultural beliefs may lead to a breach of consent and, hence, a violation of a patient's legal right. Administering, say, a blood transfusion to a patient whose religion does not recognize such a procedure without their express consent can lead to a lawsuit.

Linguistic Competence Is Part Of The Cultural Competence Package

In industries like health care, where the patients are already vulnerable and disoriented, linguistic competence is inseparable from cultural awareness, as so much depends on clear communication!

A part of a culturally competent care policy within any health care organization should be providing linguistically capable personnel or effective language translators -- so that no small detail is sacrificed to language barriers.

"Cultural Humility" Is Essential For Physicians

A culturally competent physician is self-aware enough to acknowledge their biases -- and how these biases limit their understanding and perception of their patients' experiences. A culturally competent physician seeks to keep improving their cultural competence -- and is not too proud to learn from their own patients and, if necessary, yield to the more culturally competent physician in the facility.

Researchers have found that cultural and language barriers prevent patients and health care providers from developing meaningful bonds. At the same time, it has been shown that health care professionals who share cultural similarities with their patients make them feel more welcome -- and have the advantage of better understanding their patients' perspectives and anticipating their medical and emotional needs.

Therefore, employing medical personnel that ethnically/culturally represent the patient population(s) served is part of the cultural competence policy every medical facility must institute.

Expanding the cultural skills of the entire medical staff is the other piece of the puzzle. Learned cultural competence by patient care personnel who don't share a cultural background with their patients still goes a very long way! Studies have shown that clinicians who put an effort into enhancing their tone of voice and gestures -- as well as attempt to speak the patient's native language -- are viewed quite favorably by patients.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities In Health Care Quality And Access

Racial and ethnic minorities, including immigrants, have been historically overlooked and underserved by healthcare providers in the US. At least part of the culprit is a lack of cultural competency.

Many members of racial minorities are not fluent English speakers: they tend to receive a lower quality of health care than patients without language barriers, because not all paperwork and explanations are available in their native languages when they are making medical decisions.

Unconscious bias and racial/ethnic stereotyping also play a role when medical professionals treating patients have no connection to their cultural ways. Only last century, it was believed that African Americans had higher pain thresholds: as the result, African Americans were routinely undertreated for pain in comparison to Caucasian patients. It does not take a lot of research to understand the roots of medical mistrust between the African American community and the US healthcare system.

Intentional or not, negligence or lack of proper attention from medical professionals continue to contribute to health disparities and health inequities in minority health.

The bottom line is: culturally competent care delivery will improve health outcomes in patients of diverse cultures.

Ensuring Cultural Competence In Health Industry

A culturally competent health care institution acknowledges the significance and impact of cultural differences, expands cultural knowledge, and continuously adapts services to accommodate culturally unique needs of patients and personnel.

As such, to stay current and compliant, all health care organizations should:

  • Value diversity and develop a clearly defined set of values/principles (supported by behaviors and structures) that allow the organization -- and everyone within it -- to work effectively cross-culturally.
  • Implementing structural mechanisms to ensure continuous progress in cultural competence (as there is always room for improvement): by conducting regular self-assessments of cross-cultural relations, by proactively managing cultural differences, by acquiring and institutionalizing multi-cultural knowledge into the corporate culture, and by being familiar with/adapting to the specific culturally diverse communities the organization serves.

Achieving Cultural Competence Starts With Training

Cultural competence is a skillset -- but equally a state of mind: one that begins with education.

EasyLlama's Got The Cultural Competency Training For Your Health Care Organization!

Integrating and promoting cultural competence within the health care workplace begins with the combination of transparent policy and cultural competence training.

EasyLlama offers comprehensive (yet quick and simple) cultural competency e-training specifically tailored for businesses across the "healthcare organizations" spectrum.

In this impactful course, your employees will develop both, the "cultural desire" to work with/for others with an open mind -- and the "cultural competence" to navigate the complex and nuanced multi-cultural communication routinely happening within the health care industry.

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Written by: Maria Malyk

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