How to meet the need for cultural competence in healthcare

How to meet the need for cultural competence in healthcare

Towns, neighborhoods, and communities are changing, and part of that change is due to diversity. We live in a society where moving and relocating for jobs or being closer to family is easier than in the past. Plenty of people are working remotely, so they have more choices in where they live. Some people move a lot, especially when they are younger, and are not sure about where they want to settle down or if they ever want to settle in a single place.

More people are finding they need to consider cultural competency in their workplace. In healthcare, it has become increasingly apparent that there is a strong need for cultural competency training and increasing access to healthcare resources among diverse communities.

So, why is diversity important in healthcare? And how can we meet the need for cultural competence in the industry? Nursing and healthcare courses, such as those offered at Texas Woman’s University, provide students with the means to navigate these important issues with confidence, professionalism and empathy. 

Cultural competency prevents healthcare mistakes

Good communication is critical to providing the highest level of patient care. Knowing how to connect with people from diverse backgrounds can help medical providers get the information they need from patients without unknowingly saying or doing something offensive.

Establishing trust and understanding of a patient’s healthcare needs and concerns reduces medical errors such as misdiagnosing a condition or being unaware of patient allergies and sensitivities. 

Cultural competency encourages patients to return to a medical practice

Medical practices want patients to be comfortable returning for future care. By having staff who are culturally competent, medical facilities can increase their number of loyal patients. Patients who are happy and comfortable with a medical establishment are more likely to recommend it to their friends and family.

When patients trust a facility and feel comfortable with the quality of care they are receiving, they are more likely to take the advice of members of their medical team. This makes it easier to set up patients on a series of preventive visits and health screenings based on their age and any underlying health conditions.

Establishing preventive care decreases healthcare costs and visits, enabling busy practices to care for more people.

How to increase cultural competency

If you work in healthcare, you need to assess how culturally aware you are. If you come from a diverse background, you might have a high level of cultural competence. Growing up in a diverse home or neighborhood can greatly benefit your work life.

  • Take time to learn about the dominant cultures in your area

Learning about the customs, religions and important cultural attributes of the most prominent cultures in your area is something that you can do in your spare time.

Reading books or online materials is helpful but consider volunteering at non-profits or community centers that are utilized by many different types of people in your area. Cultural festivals and events are another great way to learn more.

  • Consider learning another language

Nurses and other healthcare workers can make themselves even more valuable to employers by learning a second language. In fact, there are many medical facilities that are beginning to favor bilingual applicants. Learning another language can lead to a higher salary and increase your chances of promotions when they are available.

Access to interpretation machines and staff who speak a patient’s native language also prevents misinformation. Consider situations where a child or relative is serving as the interpreter between doctor and patient. This leads to that family member being the one to tell the patient if there is a serious health issue.

Asking a child to tell a loved one that their condition is serious or will require extensive treatment puts a huge emotional burden on them.

One must also consider situations where a patient is afraid to be honest as doing so requires going through the relative who is interpreting. The interpreter could change or augment what the patient is saying, or the patient may not say much because they are experiencing emotional or physical abuse.

  • Improve communication on all levels

Great communication is key to increasing cultural competency at a medical facility. Healthcare workers need to discuss their working experiences and observations from working in the medical community and when receiving care themselves. Those who are from diverse backgrounds can share the challenges they have experienced so that other workers can become more culturally aware of issues and work to make improvements.

It is important that people understand that workers may have the best intentions and not realize that there is a problem or disparity in the type of care and quality of care that a patient from a minority may experience. Pointing out how these things happen is the first step toward creating plans to prevent the issue in the future.

Regular team meetings at healthcare facilities are a great opportunity for everyone to talk about challenges and develop strategies for making their healthcare facility more comfortable and better at offering care to people from many different backgrounds.

Colleges, universities, and continuing education centers need to emphasize the value of cultural competency

While many higher education programs are beginning to teach some cultural competency, only so many specifics can be taught. 

If someone is training for a career in a medical field, they should consider the areas where they are most interested in working and look into finding electives or extra courses and training that can help them be as prepared as possible when they graduate and start seeking jobs.

Medical facilities need to have information available to patients in multiple languages

Pamphlets and literature commonly handed out at medical facilities must be available in many languages. The languages will vary based on the area. In many areas, for example, there are English and Spanish versions of common literature. At the same time, it can be a good idea to have access to literature in other languages that staff can print out on demand. 

An easy-to-access multilingual website is another good idea for any medical practice. This can help establish patient comfort and trust from the very beginning. In fact, it may lead to people choosing your medical facility rather than another one in the area.

Medical facilities need to acknowledge healthcare challenges among different cultures

Listing the most common challenges and creating realistic goals is invaluable for any medical establishment. Here are a few of the most common cultural challenges in meeting the healthcare needs of diverse populations.

  • Religious customs

Some religions have restrictions, meaning that a patient may not be open to commonly available treatments. These restrictions can make it challenging for medical teams to provide care. Knowing some of the most common restrictions and having solutions on hand for when these issues arise makes providing care faster and easier. 

  • Lack of transportation

It can be difficult for some people to get to and from medical appointments. Some may not feel safe using the transportation they can access. Working with patients to find them transportation resources can vastly increase access to healthcare and prevent missed appointments.

There may be transportation services in an area that provide free or low-cost rides to healthcare appointments. Some healthcare plans, such as Medicaid, may even offer coverage that pays for transportation costs to required appointments. Many patients simply have no idea what is available to them for a variety of reasons, such as communication barriers or lack of online access.

  • Misunderstandings about medical costs

Everyone can have trouble understanding medical care costs. Many people refuse treatment not because they have any moral or religious objections, but because they do not have the financial resources. They may think that they are entirely responsible for medical treatments that are covered in some cases. Providers need to have medical staff available who are capable of explaining the financial aspect of care to people from many backgrounds. They also need to assist them with finding other resources that may be available to help with costs that are not covered by their medical coverage.

  • Child or elder care conflicts

Parents or caregivers for elderly relatives may have problems finding care so that they can attend appointments. While this is outside the range of services provided by medical facilities, it is a challenge that providers need to be aware of when setting up appointments. Directing patients toward social service resources and agencies can be helpful.

  • Little to no preventive care

People from all backgrounds do not go to preventive care appointments, only seek out medical care when absolutely necessary. During the COVID-19 crisis, even more people chose not to go to preventive care appointments. These habits have persisted and are a particular challenge for healthcare providers.

Providers need to create a plan to encourage preventive care. Effort must be made to ensure that patients understand what types of visits and screenings are covered by their medical plan or as a matter of public health. 

Emphasis needs to be put on preventive care that may reduce how many visits they have to make to the doctor over a long period of time.

Getting every patient on a good preventive care schedule reduces medical costs for the patient and allows medical practices to offer more care to more people. Doing more with the amount of healthcare staff on hand is going to be increasingly important as demand for care rises with the aging population.

  • Distrust of the medical community and authority

With more people immigrating to the US, there is a fear that if someone seeks medical care, they may be reported as being in the country illegally or face some other form of persecution. The truth is that medical practices cannot deny medical treatment to anyone based on this, and they do not go out of their way to report immigrants unless someone who is wanted for a serious crime comes to the practice.

This means that medical facilities need to find ways to establish trust with patients who are wary of anyone in a position of authority.

  • Some illnesses may be seen as shameful

Different cultures may treat certain illnesses as something to be ashamed of. This leads to people hiding an illness until it becomes quite serious, or if the illness is diagnosed quickly, they may try to continue their life as they did before. Patients hiding an illness from loved ones may be a huge problem that hinders their treatment and recovery or even makes it impossible. 

Patients must know that some illnesses happen for reasons beyond their control. Providers need to make an effort to find support services that can help these people when they are ill. This is especially true if relatives are not forthcoming.

Cultural competence increases overall positive patient outcomes in cases of serious illness or disability

Treating some conditions takes more time than others. Doctors and medical facilities with good cultural competence can treat patients more efficiently and avoid mistakes. Getting started on treatment sooner rather than later and keeping patient morale high will increase the odds of a positive outcome for the patient and their family. 

Cultural competency keeps misunderstandings to a minimum

Lack of cultural competency can lead to situations where someone thinks that an individual or their family are simply being rude. For example, some customs mean that members of the opposite sex cannot physically contact one another. As a consequence, a medical facility may need to reassign staff providing care for a patient.

Healthcare providers may need to reach out to different communities for help creating a more culturally aware care environment

Reaching out to religious or cultural leaders can be helpful when creating a more culturally aware medical care facility. Having an expert explain practices and customs to your staff and answer their questions is invaluable. Learning first-hand is always better than trying to find information online and glean what you can.

It can be challenging to accept some personal choices, but providers must train staff to do so

Patients have a right to refuse care or specific treatments that are offered. It is common for this to happen due to religious reasons. While medical staff want to increase a patient’s quality and length of life using whatever medical practices they can reasonably offer, a patient may refuse. Surgeries may not go against religious beliefs, but an aspect of surgery such as a blood transfusion may do, thus leading to a patient refusing a life-saving treatment.

Medical facilities need to consider cultural competency when budgeting

Cultural competence comes with costs. It is important to include costs when doing annual budgeting. The first step is assessing the needs of the facility and community. For example, if there appear to be communication problems, then there may be a need to hire interpreters or paying for staff to take language classes. Cultural awareness training programs are not without costs, but they offer countless benefits.

Attending job fairs and networking events can help increase the diversity of your healthcare team, but there are travel and labor expenses to consider.

Costs for printing literature in multiple languages should be factored in.

Medical facilities should evaluate cultural competency regularly and strive to improve whenever possible

It is important to assess how things are going once you start trying to increase diversity at your facility and provide cultural awareness training. There are many ways to do this. One obvious change may be that you see your facility serving more people from different backgrounds and that more of them are returning for services such as preventive care or ongoing treatment for chronic conditions.

Asking staff to share any specific challenges or situations they feel were hard to resolve is another good way to evaluate the need for future improvements.


Cultural competency is increasingly important in healthcare as many areas become more diverse. Staff require training to learn about different people and their backgrounds and to address any special needs and concerns they have – in fact, the learning never stops.

Colleges and universities that offer healthcare degrees and training have taken notice of this need and are making increasing efforts to design curriculums that offer many opportunities to learn about different types of people and cultures.

Those who have worked in healthcare for many years may need to make more of an effort to learn as the community around them becomes more diverse.

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