Cultural Competence in Healthcare: Bridging Gaps for Diverse Populations

Cultural Competence in Healthcare: Bridging Gaps for Diverse Populations

Cultural Competence in Healthcare: Bridging Gaps for Diverse Populations banner

Amid significant social change and as advocates work to improve health equity, healthcare providers and public health experts are working tirelessly to become more culturally competent. Healthcare practitioners can become better professionals by recognizing that all patients, regardless of their background, ethnicity, personal beliefs, values, and cultural norms, deserve personalized care. 

What Is Cultural Competence in Healthcare?

Cultural competence is defined as the ability to interact with others with diverse values, beliefs and cultural norms. According to the American Hospital Association, cultural competence in healthcare is considered to be the ability of healthcare providers and health experts to provide personalized care to patients whose diverse values, beliefs, traditions, behaviors and social norms may be different from their own. In many cases, this requires healthcare providers and healthcare administrators to accommodate language barriers, religious beliefs and cultural traditions within the context of the care that they provide.

Key Components of Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Within the broad scope of cultural competence, there are key components that healthcare providers, healthcare administrators and public health experts must be aware of. Within these components, health professionals can learn how to take actionable steps to improve the overall patient experience and provide every patient with the best possible outcomes.

Below are the essential components of cultural competence in healthcare:

Cultural Awareness

An individual’s culture has a significant impact on their perception of the healthcare system and their overall health beliefs. Given that health professionals work with a wide range of patients from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, it is crucial that they are aware of these cultural differences and work to provide patients with culturally sensitive care. Cultural awareness can help a nurse provide better pain management offerings for their patients, because some cultures have specific beliefs and traditions regarding pain management. Knowing the healthcare expectations of different cultures can help all health professionals provide patients with superior service and improved outcomes.

Cultural Knowledge

The journey toward becoming culturally competent as a healthcare provider is never over. Ongoing training, education and discovery is necessary to become as knowledgeable and aware as possible. When health professionals work to learn more about the different cultures of the patients that they serve, they will be more aware of specific cultural practices, languages and health traditions. This knowledge can help bridge the gap between the provider and the patient, ultimately helping the patient develop a deeper sense of trust in their provider and the healthcare system at large.

Cultural Sensitivity

Knowing the role that culture plays in a person’s perception of the healthcare industry, it is vital that all health professionals focus on improving their overall cultural sensitivity. Demonstrating empathy for patients and being willing to listen to their needs and concerns, can help healthcare providers develop a personalized plan of care based on the person’s belief system. Healthcare providers need to have a deep sense of appreciation and respect for the cultural background, heritage and values of all patients, as this is key to developing trust between provider and patient.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important in Healthcare?

There is a significant push for all communities, regardless of their location or size, to become more inclusive. As a result, the need for cultural competence in healthcare has never been greater. Culturally competent care within the healthcare system ensures that all patients receive the care that they both need and deserve that is in line with their personal values and belief system. Knowing the significant role that culture, religion and tradition can play in a person’s life, it is fundamental for healthcare providers to remain aware and empathetic as they serve their patients.

Cultural competence is important in healthcare because it offers:

Improved Communication

Culturally competent care organically improves communication between patients and providers, which leads to a deeper sense of trust between the two parties. When culture is taken into consideration, and health professionals work to overcome communication barriers that may exist, patients often receive a more accurate diagnosis, more personalized care and improved treatment.

Increased Patient Satisfaction

For patients from diverse backgrounds and cultures, the healthcare system can feel homogenous and overwhelming. When cultural competence is a priority within the healthcare setting, patients are more likely to feel represented, respected, understood and valued. When patients see that their care aligns with their values and beliefs, they are more likely to adhere to the treatment plan provided.

Reduced Health Disparities

The fact of the matter is, not all people have equal access to high-quality healthcare, and health professionals across all specialties are working to reduce the health disparities that exist within the population. One of the best ways to begin to reduce those disparities and improve health equity is to prioritize cultural competence, as culturally competent care can help providers better connect with and serve minority populations. Culturally competent care in the healthcare setting has led to improved outcomes, particularly in minority populations.

Stronger Community Relationships

When healthcare institutions and public health professionals work to prioritize cultural competence, the entire community benefits. As communities become increasingly diverse, it is paramount that all people feel seen, represented, and respected within the healthcare system. Providers who focus on culturally competent care will be considered more trustworthy among the entire population. A strong relationship between the healthcare facility and the community it serves ensures that there is a deep sense of trust and allows the facility to provide improved outcomes for all patients.

How to Implement Cultural Competence in Healthcare

When it comes down to answering the question “What is cultural competence in healthcare?” There are many ongoing challenges and considerations that healthcare professionals have to take into account. Becoming more aware of cultural competence in healthcare and the key role it plays is the first step in improving patient outcomes and providing all patients with the best possible care. However, all health professionals and public health experts need to know how to also implement cultural competence within the healthcare setting.

You can begin to improve cultural competence in healthcare by focusing on the following:

Training and Education

Training and education is the key to cultural competence in healthcare. Whether you are just beginning your online bachelor’s in Public Health or you have been working in the healthcare profession for several decades, it’s valuable to participate in skills-based training sessions and continuing education programs. This can help you learn more about the best cultural competency principles and practices. Cultural competency is not a skill that someone obtains within a 6-week training session — it is an ongoing learning process that must be refined and improved over time.

Language Accessibility

Language can be one of the most difficult barriers to overcome, particularly in the healthcare setting. As it is, it can be difficult for patients without a background in healthcare to understand their diagnoses and treatment options, even when they speak the same language as their provider. However, when there are language barriers that exist, providers must go the extra mile to improve accessibility for all patients. Having a wide range of translated materials as well as language interpretation specialists can help providers ensure that all patients can feel confident and informed while receiving care. One of the best ways to improve cultural competence in the healthcare setting is to hire staff members who speak multiple languages, as this can help patients feel more represented within the healthcare system and more understood by their providers.

Community Collaboration

Healthcare professionals need to expand their horizons beyond the healthcare facility and build relationships with community leaders. These leaders can help them understand the needs and perceptions of the people they serve. Through community collaboration, healthcare providers will be able to provide all patients with personal and relevant care.

Culturally Responsive Practices

A perspective of culturally responsive healthcare from the mental health field can help increase trust and improve patient outcomes. Culturally responsive practices require providers to adapt their communication styles, update their care plans and personalize their treatment approaches to cater to diverse values and cultural backgrounds.

How to Build a More Culturally Competent Healthcare System

As a health professional, you are focused on becoming more culturally competent on an individual level, but you also need to actively work to improve cultural competence in the healthcare system as a whole.

Shared Responsibility

Cultural competence is a shared responsibility. Both healthcare institutions and individual providers must take accountability when it comes to increasing cultural awareness and improving culturally responsive practices. Through collaboration and ongoing education, both institutions and individual providers can begin to improve cultural competence in healthcare at all levels.

Continuous Improvement

It is important to keep in mind that cultural competence is not a benchmark that you or your healthcare institution will reach, and then subsequently move on from. Cultural competence requires regular evaluation, an open mind and continuous improvement efforts. Healthcare providers and health professionals must be willing to listen to their patients and regularly evaluate the care that they provide.

Explore the Role of Cultural Competence in Healthcare at Johnson & Wales University

Social and cultural norms, as well as personal beliefs, play a vital part in a person’s healthcare experience and overall patient outcomes. At Johnson & Wales University, we recognize the pivotal role that cultural competence in healthcare plays, and we weave it into our public health curricula. Through our online bachelor’s in Public Health and online bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration degree programs, you will develop a deep sense of cultural awareness and hone the skills needed to pursue a variety of health-focused careers.

For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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