Today more than a third of Americans in need of medical care are not seeking treatment.
There are a variety of reasons why this occurs, including communication challenges, emotional factors, dislike of physicians and the healthcare system, denial, avoiding worry, embarrassment, practical barriers, and prior negative experiences, according to a well-referenced qualitative study from the National Institutes of Health. However, most of these issues could be addressed with the same solution that would make the healthcare delivery system more inviting: improving cultural competency among healthcare professionals.
What is cultural competency?
Cultural competency has its roots in social justice as it aims to provide a more equitable healthcare delivery system. Becoming culturally competent is a dynamic process involving leadership, medical professionals, administrative and technical employees, other stakeholders, and patients working together to create a climate of inclusion and acceptance. It involves the ability to effectively relate to and communicate with people from diverse ethnic, racial, religious, cultural, economic, gender, age, linguistic, or social backgrounds.
In the landmark report, “Toward a Culturally Competent System of Care,” researchers Terry L. Cross and Barbara J. Bazron, Karl W. Dennis, and Mareasa R. Isaacs first identified and defined a culturally competent system of care as one that acknowledges and incorporates – at all levels – the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, a continual expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs.
Culturally competent care for all
Cultural competency is a critical component in reducing healthcare inequities. A strong understanding of what cultural competency is, why it must be developed, and how to implement it throughout an organization can create a medical practice that focuses on the care needs of all patients while they are in a clinician’s office and even after they leave it. In its survey of U.S. hospitals, The Institute for Diversity in Health Management, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, found that while 81 percent of hospitals educate clinical staff during orientation about how to address the unique cultural and linguistic factors affecting the care of diverse patients and communities, only 61 percent require all employees to attend diversity training. Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and those who deliver services directly to patients have been the obvious candidates for cultural competency training, but employees in IT, billing, collections, and other back office roles also contribute to patient care.
Developing cultural competency for all healthcare workers and operationalizing culturally competent care for all patients must be a priority. It should be a requisite for every employee in the healthcare system, as it contributes to positive patient outcomes and begins to close the gap in healthcare equity. Cultural competency affects accurate diagnoses, adherence to treatment, good record keeping, and proper reimbursement for services. It has an impact on the patient-physician relationship and medical trust. In the United States, it has been estimated that the combined cost of health disparities and subsequent deaths due to inadequate and/or inequitable care is $1.24 trillion. Further, the lack of training and implementation of this “soft-skill” produced fear and frustration for patients and ineffective office operations, which negatively impact a healthcare provider or system’s ability to deliver quality care for all, as well as its reputation and financial standing.
Cultural competence benefits everyone
Cultural competence offers a wide range of benefits to the healthcare provider and community as well.
Increasing respect and understanding between the patient and provider, along with office and support staff, leads to a level of trust and responsibility for care that is mutually beneficial for all. Outside the office, it encourages community participation and involvement in health issues.
A culturally competent healthcare practice can improve data collection by communicating basic medical terms in the language a patient finds most comfortable and by being meticulously accurate with coding. This also boosts cost savings from a reduction in medical errors and can help eliminate frustration for patients and caregivers when they need to unravel disputes and/or denials from Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance company claims. When every staff member operates with professionalism as well as respect and understanding rooted in cultural fluency of the patients they serve, their actions reduce procedural misunderstandings, accidental overbilling, needless paperwork, and reimbursement issues.
Moreover, by incorporating diverse perspectives, ideas, and strategies into their operations, medical providers can improve efficiency, decrease barriers that slow payments for services, and cultivate better financial outcomes.
Becoming a culturally competent healthcare organization
As more and more healthcare providers enhance their cultural competency, they provide proof that successfully treating and communicating with patients of every age, nationality, sexual identity, and gender can help those patients navigate the system and receive the care they need.