Every patient has different needs, but these needs extend beyond their health status and physical characteristics. To deliver the highest quality and most personalized care, healthcare professionals must also understand their patients’ cultural needs.
Cultural competency, or knowledge and understanding of a patient’s cultural, linguistic and social needs, affects what type of treatment a patient receives. High cultural competency among all staff members improves inclusion as well as patient experience.
Many different cultures have unique traditions and beliefs about health and social interaction. Some common examples may include:
- People from some countries, including Mexico or Iran, may prefer a healthcare provider talk to a family member, instead of the patient directly.
- People from some Asian cultures may prefer to avoid eye contact with healthcare providers either as a sign of respect or to avoid any impropriety.
- Patients from many different backgrounds and religions may find physical touch, outside of direct care, inappropriate.
- Patients from an Amish background may not believe in accepting Medicaid or other forms of financial support from outside their own community.
Striving to identify and understand these differences can help you provide care that is right for your individual patient. Without proper cultural sensitivity, patients may avoid seeking care, leading to worse health outcomes.
While it is important to recognize these differences exist, it is also important not to stereotype every patient you see from specific cultural backgrounds. If you are unsure what practices your patient follows, you can always ask about their culture and needs in a respectful way. You can also improve your cultural competence by:
Ignoring cultural differences or being “color-blind” doesn’t help patients get the treatment that fits their needs. Instead, they will receive one-size-fits-all care that may not be right for them.
Instead of ignoring difference, recognize them. Recognize that learning about each other’s differences helps you improve the quality of your care. Try to understand your patients’ cultures, why they believe what they do and how these beliefs and practices affect what care they need, how they behave and how they feel. In the United States, our differences can make us stronger, helping us celebrate many ideas and viewpoints.
Implement Inclusion Practices
It’s not enough to recognize differences that are there; you must change the way you provide care, too, to help patients and staff members from different cultures feel included. Inclusion practices may include hiring bilingual interpreters to help you provide care, hiring a diverse staff from different backgrounds and or doing outreach in communities of color.
Educate from the Top Down
Each member of your organization should learn how to recognize important cultural differences and how they affect care. To start a system-wide change, you’ll need to first educate the leaders of your organization in cultural competence and inclusion. These leaders can help other staff members receive cultural training and continue to communicate the importance of cultural competence.
All patients deserve quality care that helps them feel comfortable, safe and valued. When you improve cultural competency in your practice or organization through training, inclusion practices and other techniques, you take the first steps toward improving treatment for all patients, no matter what their background, beliefs or culture.