Why Cultural Competence in Health Care Is Very Important

a number of hands on a table
Cheryl Lee
July 15, 2022
1 min read
a number of hands on a table

We all understand and appreciate that diversity is an integral aspect of human society. Thanks to increasing travel and modern technology, we’re more interconnected and diverse than ever before in history. As an important and intrinsic part of society, diversity is found everywhere around us, especially in workplace situations and when dealing with the public.

Maintaining a healthy environment is really necessary when it comes to diversity in every sector. Some infrastructures in the society are among essential means e.g. healthcare system.

Being an essential means, this sector serves more people than any sector. Making sure diversity is residing there at its best is really important. Your organisation can get to this state if you focus on cultural competence in health care.

What is cultural competence?

Put simply, cultural competence is a person’s ability to effectively interact in various intercultural settings, such as in their professional or personal life.

To be considered culturally competent, you should be able to understand and reflect on your own worldviews and cultural values. This involves a reflection of your own natural cultural bias and how you are able to make reasonable and respectful choices. This includes the capacity to collaborate and effectively communicate in cross cultural contexts.

Importance of cultural competence in health care

Cultural competence is the ability and resources to provide health care facilities to patients coming from different cultural backgrounds with differing social and linguistic requirements.

In their paper, Cultural competency in the delivery of health services for Indigenous people, the Authors state “Cultural competency is a key strategy for reducing inequalities in healthcare access and the quality and effectiveness of care received.“.

We have discussed the meaning of the word cultural competence on a broad level. So, the one we are talking about right now is a narrower version specific to a particular section. Let us decode the word cultural competence in order to give you an even clearer context of it.

Culture is a word used to describe the specific patterns in the behaviour of people belonging to a specific racial, ethnic, social, or linguistic group. This is why the behavioural patterns of people from one culture might seem unfamiliar to others. Competence is the ability of a person or organisation to work effectively in the cultural needs or beliefs of their customers or community.

When you improve the cultural competence in health care institutions, you will be able to know the issues affecting patients and act according to their certain demands that might be cross-cultural. Once you succeed in doing it, you can easily avoid adverse outcomes and this will lead to proper growth in the health of a community.

Nurse providing care
Nurse providing care (Source)

Benefits of cultural competence in health care

Research has shown there are a number of positive benefits for healthcare institutions to have an effective cultural competence. Things like enhanced health outcomes, mutual understanding between patients and healthcare professionals, decreased cost, etc. are a few outcomes.

In an article on the Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine website states some of the benefits of cultural competence in health care, include;

  • Improved Patient Outcomes
  • Improved Patient Experiences
  • Increased patient safety
  • Reduced inefficiencies
  • Reduced care disparities
  • Decreased costs
  • Improved rapport
  • Tailored treatment plans
  • Improved patient attendance and compliance

We can all agree the above benefits are something every healthcare provider should be striving for.

Some tips on improving cultural competence in health care institutions

Knowing the benefits and other aspects is not enough until you figure out some ways to engender cultural competence inside your healthcare institution. Here are a few ways we feel can be of use and trust they will prove to be fruitful for you.

Employ staff from diverse cultures

If you want any work area or institution to have better cultural competence, focusing on it right from the beginning would be highly helpful. Things will always turn out to be the best if we consider the need for cultural competence at the time of hiring.

Hiring people from different cultures simply means your organisation is reflecting the values you want. Everyone from staff management roles, through to the front line nursing staff. Even doctors and medical receptionists should reflect the diverse communities in which we operate.

Such an organisational structure will help you a lot in applying proper cultural guidelines. People in this environment will be able to understand the meaning and importance of diversity very easily. Don’t hire these people for representational purposes only.

Brief employees about cultural competency during their onboarding

Every employee needs to have information right in the beginning about the importance of cultural competence in health care. They must know things like the community the institution serves/will serve, cultural differences, etc.

Having a thorough understanding of the community you deal with. This includes detailed demographic data and survey responses, which will help you a lot in imparting the knowledge easily.

Having this knowledge puts healthcare professionals in a far better situation when it comes to understanding the requirements of their patients, and having a customer centric approach to health care delivery.

Make the best use of interpreters/translators to eliminate any inconvenience

The inability to communicate properly is the biggest obstacle when it comes to being a part of a different culture. Ensuring effective communication should be your priority in this case. Being unable to understand the language of a stranger in the street might be a normal thing.

But when you can’t understand your patient, it might produce catastrophic results. Doing it becomes seamless with the help of modern interpreters/localisation/communication services. Simply this process by training the staff about using the certified language interpreters.

Studies into cultural competence in health care have proven many negative outcomes have been avoided by implementing such interpretation and communication services. Some additional requirements include the on-site availability of multilingual interpreters.

Stages of the cultural competence continuum
Stages of the cultural competence continuum (Source)

Prepare a smart training program to enhance cultural competence

Getting desired results from training is not enough if the training is not designed specifically to address cultural competence in health care.

The training program should be such that people engage in it enthusiastically and it must be compulsory for all members. Start the training from basics where concerned professionals will learn about the ways to communicate and interact. Training should address the challenges which healthcare professionals might face while serving people from different cultures.

Every aspect of the training must be about engendering a positive mindset among healthcare professionals when it comes to different cultures. Ensure that any training program you develop has a performance assessment component, to ensure the training has been effective.

Final words

Situation and demands differ from one institution to another. You have to apply your knowledge accordingly. Whenever you are working on improving cultural competence in health care, knowing the preferences and tastes of each individual is really important.

Knowing these aspects will help you a lot in implementing further modifications to make the surroundings more diverse and competent. Your institution might face some challenges along the way. You can typically overcome these by understanding your patients precisely in terms of cultural competence.

Making a healthy environment may take some time but it is worth going for. You will need to invest money, time, etc. This is simply because you can’t practice it without resources. Focus on the required materials, necessary programs, and proper programs, and things will get on track accordingly.

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