A Path Toward Culturally Competent Health Care

By: Dan Bueschel
Nov 30, 2016 3:15 PM ET

Since the launch of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), minorities across the U.S. have made significant gains in healthcare coverage.  The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that between 2013 and 2015 the uninsured rates fell for all racial and ethnic groups. While the future of the ACA is uncertain, the fact is that our country is becoming more demographically diverse. Pew Research projects that by 2055 there will not be a single racial or ethnic majority.

Regardless of ACA’s future, it’s clear that the healthcare industry needs to be prepared to address the shifting demographics today and in the future. Specifically, how prepared is the health care industry in creating “a culturally competent workforce that provides effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs”?

As a measure for addressing the growing diversity of the population, the Office of Minority Health in the Department of Health and Human Services published in September a revised National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS). The standards aim to improve health care quality and advance health equity by establishing a framework for organizations to serve the nation’s increasingly diverse communities.

Here are some highlights from CLAS on how health care organizations can address and implement more culturally-competent care:

  • Recruit, promote and support a culturally and linguistically diverse governance, leadership and workforce that are responsive to the population in the service area
  • Educate and train governance, leadership and workforce in culturally and linguistically appropriate policies and practices on an ongoing basis.
  • Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all health care and services.
  • Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the languages commonly used by the populations in the service area.
  • Establish culturally and linguistically appropriate goals, policies and management accountability, and infuse them throughout the organizations’ planning and operations.
  • Conduct regular assessments of community health assets and needs and use the results to plan and implement services that respond to the cultural and linguistic diversity of populations in the service area.
  • Partner with the community to design, implement and evaluate policies, practices and services to ensure cultural and linguistic appropriateness.
  • Create conflict- and grievance-resolution processes that are culturally and linguistically appropriate to identify, prevent and resolve conflicts or complaints.
  • Communicate the organization’s progress in implementing and sustaining CLAS to all stakeholders, constituents and the general public

If you work in the health care industry and are taking measures to ensure a culturally competent environment, we’d like to hear for you.  Please share your best practices and lessons learned on how your organization is helping to ensure that it’s able to care for an evermore culturally diverse population on Sodexo Insights.