How Can Cultural Competence in Health Care Be Improved?

nursing practice in primary care settings.
October 15, 2022
Results of the Nuremberg Trial
October 15, 2022

How Can Cultural Competence in Health Care Be Improved?

How Can Cultural Competence in Health Care Be Improved?

Working and living conditions and access to high-quality healthcare are not the same for everyone. Health inequities present a significant challenge to the healthcare community, but providers have a powerful tool: cultural competence. Cultural competence in health care addresses the disparities faced by people of different races and cultures. It has the potential to ensure that all patients receive the care they require to live healthier lives.

What Is the Meaning of Cultural Competence in Health Care?

Cultural competence in health care entails delivering effective, high-quality care to patients with diverse beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors. This practice necessitates the development of systems that can personalize health care based on cultural and linguistic differences. It is also necessary to comprehend the potential impact that cultural differences can have on healthcare delivery.


Race, socioeconomic status, health literacy, and other factors, for example, can influence:


Patients’ perceptions of symptoms and health conditions

When and how patients seek medical attention

Patients’ care expectations

Preferences of patients for procedures or treatments

The willingness of patients to follow doctor recommendations or treatment plans

Who do patients believe should have a say in healthcare decisions?

While cultural competence in health care originally referred to meeting the needs of people from distinct ethnic and racial groups, it now also refers to meeting the needs of people with disabilities, those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and LGBTQ community members.


The Importance of Cultural Competence in Health Care

Differences between healthcare providers and patients can hamper communication. This, in turn, can influence clinicians’ and patients’ treatment decisions. A clinician, for example, may misinterpret a patient’s silence as a lack of interest in receiving care. As a result, the clinician may refrain from ordering a diagnostic test when the patient’s response reflects their understanding of respectful behavior.


When healthcare providers fail to recognize the differences between themselves and their patients, they may provide lower-quality care inadvertently. Cultivating skills that improve cross-cultural communication can be beneficial in providing equitable care.


Building teams of healthcare professionals who reflect the diversity of the patient populations served can also help to improve cross-cultural communication. Diverse groups have a broader cultural knowledge base that they can share. As a result, they are more likely to respond with empathy to patients’ unique cultural needs.


Language accessibility is also important. Patients are unable to describe their symptoms accurately, and providers are unable to explain diagnoses due to language barriers. Other than language barriers, language barriers can create unsafe and inappropriate situations.


Clinicians, for example, may rely on children to serve as interpreters, putting children in the position of informing a parent that they have cancer. Another example is when clinicians rely on abusive spouses to interpret for battered partners. Both situations present significant challenges.