The Critical Need for Cultural Competence in Healthcare with Examples

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What is cultural competence in healthcare?

It’s an absolute tragedy to report that African American women have the highest infant mortality rates, accounting for 11.11 deaths in every 1000 births. An astronomical number for the world’s wealthiest nation. 

At the center of this heartbreaking statistic are the systematic, implicit, and deliberate biases marginalized individuals experience daily in the healthcare system. These healthcare disparities negatively affect many people’s willingness to seek care or regard the care they receive as inadequate. 

At the heart of this massive problem is the lack of cultural awareness. To tackle these health disparities, clinicians can learn how their unconscious biases, actions, and ignorance impact the quality of healthcare they provide through cultural competence training.

Through cultural competence training programs, doctors, nurses, and support staff learn how to navigate cultural differences, so all care is equitable. 

Although progress occurs annually, there is plenty of room for improvement in healthcare services. This article explores the importance of cultural competence in healthcare, examples of how to be more inclusive, and a few tips to remember for every interaction in your facility! 

Why Cultural Competence in Healthcare is Critical

Healthcare workers must display acute cultural knowledge of their patient population when recommending appropriate services or treatment plans. Valuing and understanding cultural differences helps improve community health and overall healthcare delivery. Healthcare inequities happen when biases or discrimination occur based on socioeconomic dispositions, race, and health literacy. 

These disparities impact diverse patients in various ways, such as: 

  • How they perceive symptoms, conditions, and treatments.
  • How, where, and when they seek out care for health concerns.
  • Their expectations of health outcomes.
  • Their preference regarding procedures or treatments. 
  • Who patients believe should participate in healthcare decisions. 
  • How they view the overall quality of care.

Cultural competence once focused solely on ethnic groups and racial biases. However, cultural backgrounds extend beyond race and include patients with disabilities, sexual orientations and identities, diverse socioeconomic histories, and other minority groups. 

These negative perceptions mean weaker communication between healthcare professionals and their patients. When communication skills suffer, patients are more likely to make uninformed healthcare decisions, struggle to describe symptoms accurately and be unable to comprehend diagnoses. 

In cases of language barriers, non-English speaking patients have children translate, leading to many unintended consequences and uncomfortable situations where a child doesn’t belong.  

Quality patient care for those with different cultural backgrounds hangs in the balance. Cultivating a diverse and inclusive healthcare organization can improve the ability to respond to a patient’s unique needs. 

Are you looking to make a lasting change in the cultural competence of your healthcare organization? Become a certified diversity coach with an accredited course through Coach Diversity Institute. Each program will prepare you to navigate the challenges of creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world. 

6 Examples of Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Improving cultural competence in your care organization won’t happen without a few challenges. However, there are a few considerations you and your organization can make to reduce stereotyping, reinforce cultural skills, and improve patient outcomes. 

1. Dietary considerations

The diets of patients can range widely depending on their unique backgrounds. A historical lack of nutritious foods and food security can impact food choices and eating patterns. A patient’s culture or socioeconomic position can also influence how they make dietary considerations that affect medical care choices. 

Through cultural competence, healthcare providers can provide appropriate recommendations based on a patient’s lifestyle, food culture, and access to nutritious food. Additionally, if you work in an institutional healthcare facility, you can combat issues by hiring a diverse staff and providing healthy meals that align with the patient’s dietary restrictions and preferences. 

2. Religious Considerations

Religious beliefs are a powerful determinant among patients. These beliefs and spiritual choices affect diets, medications, modesty, gender of practitioners, and the mental health of patients. Because religion and spirituality are such deep-rooted lifestyle motivators, it’s essential to be mindful and respectful of these needs.

To become a culturally competent healthcare provider, you can make changes to your facility that focus on religious and spiritual inclusion. These changes include adding a rabbi, imam, or other spiritual leaders to the on-call staff, which significantly improves cultural diversity and patient and family comfort during a crisis. 

3. Prayer Facilities

Along the same lines as religious considerations are changes to prayer facilities or spiritual safe spaces. Many healthcare facilities are converting chapels into multi-denominational prayer areas that serve many religions. 

In addition to being safe spaces for patients and families, they also offer a place for staff to practice or observe their personal faith. By making this transition, healthcare practitioners recognize that religion and spirituality are cultural and help people through challenging times. 

Struggling with employee buy-in on your inclusive changes? Coach Diversity Institute’s organizational services can empower your employees to learn about the backgrounds of their diverse team members. Through education, your team becomes aware of its implicit biases and works to curb discrimination. 

4. Diversity Calendar

Diverse workforces practice diverse holidays. While systematically, holidays are traditionally Anglo-Christian in nature, the diverse demographics of workforces today are changing that notion. Rather than relying on the standard holiday calendar, use a diversity calendar to celebrate culturally important holidays regardless of affiliation. 

A diversity calendar provides a comprehensive collection of holidays and observations for various religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs. Genuine care and interest in the practices of others open the door to inclusive healthcare environments, leading to better treatment of staff and patients. 

5. Respectful Scheduling

Because diverse workforces value a variety of holidays, many employees may seek to take time off during their celebrations rather than “traditional” days. In an industry like healthcare, where keeping people healthy never takes a day off, accommodating patients and staff is not only possible but also a way to provide an inclusive and equitable environment. 

Practicing respectful scheduling can include when staff has scheduled vacation days, when surgery or operations occur, and routine testing or appointments. Allowing staff and patients to observe important days can create a closer bond between practitioner and patient, improving overall health equity.  

6. Heritage Celebrations

Along with respectful scheduling and utilizing a diversity calendar, heritage celebrations offer a way to share culture and learn about what makes everyone special. Use the diversity calendar to include culturally appropriate decorations, provide a culture-specific meal, or bring the team together with various celebrations.

Popular observations and celebrations include Black History Month, Latin Heritage Month, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Pride Month, and other spiritual events from a wide range of ethnic minorities. Find out which celebrations your team loves celebrating and create an environment where they feel comfortable sharing those celebrations with others. 

Cultural Competence in Healthcare in Practice

Putting any initiative into practice will come with some bumps along the way. There are some best practices you can do to ensure that these bumps get smoothed out while boosting patient satisfaction. Following these steps during every interaction can help you to create culturally competent nursing and healthcare services

  1. Speak in terms that are easy for the patient to understand.
  2. Don’t judge or disregard the patient’s beliefs.
  3. Empathize with the patient at all times.
  4. Value the individual and applaud their strengths.

These simple strategies take effort to implement consistently, but they make a world of difference for patients. The nation’s public health depends on the ability to transform organizational culture to value everyone’s differences.  

Let Coach Diversity Institute Train Your Healthcare Team in Cultural Competence

Cultural competence can help elevate the struggling healthcare system. Through mindful recognition of different cultures, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and LGBTQ status, the interactions between healthcare practitioners and their patients can improve. That improvement can translate into more informed diagnoses, an increased willingness to seek care, and greater trust between patients and healthcare professionals. 

While there are considerations and changes you can implement in your workplace, the best way to become more culturally competent is through training. Coach Diversity Institute offers programs and resources that illuminate implicit biases, highlight the destructive power of microaggressions, and provide you with the skills needed to make a difference in marginalized staff and patients.