Cultural Competence in Healthcare: Definition and Examples

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Written by Kayla Tyson Editor, B2C Content, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse attending to a patient wearing a hijab, highlighting the importance of cultural competence in healthcare settings.

As the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, industries and organizations across the country are discussing how they can meet the unique needs of the groups they serve. This conversation is certainly occurring in the medical sphere, with questions arising about how to implement cultural competence in healthcare organizations.

You may be wondering how your facility or residence can improve the quality of care it provides to diverse populations. This article explores the meaning of cultural competency in healthcare and provides some examples of what cultural awareness might look like in a real-world medical setting.

What is Cultural Competency in Healthcare?

While there are varying interpretations of the term, this article will use the following cultural competence definition: A healthcare organization’s ability to provide care to patients with diverse backgrounds, values, customs, and languages. It also involves the practice of cultural humility — recognizing one’s own lack of understanding and demonstrating openness to discover the important aspects of another person’s identity.

Cultural competence is founded on the desire to create a welcoming and accommodating environment. Above and beyond addressing discrimination, it’s important to take actionable steps to help patients and residents at long-term care facilities feel understood and valued. This requires facilities to implement thoughtful systems that provide personalized, responsive care.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important in Healthcare?

In addition to making patients feel welcome and acknowledged, there are several other advantages to prioritizing cultural competence in healthcare. The first is improvements in patient safety and outcomes, which can be negatively impacted by a lack of cultural understanding.

For example, if a patient originates from a culture from which there are language or cultural barriers to communication, staff may not be able to obtain consent for a needed procedure in a timely manner. Prioritizing cultural competence could lead to improved outcomes for such a patient.

Keep in mind that cultural competence can be quite granular and may involve intersectionality (individuals who identity as more than one minority group). For instance, misunderstanding gender norms within a given culture, particularly those pertaining to women, can hinder the quality of care. Similarly, it’s important to understand the nuances of trauma-informed care.

Additionally, greater cultural competency in healthcare can result in improved patient satisfaction. In fact, studies show that the improved satisfaction of diverse groups may primarily occur as a result of their interactions with nurses and other hospital staff. These advancements in cultural competence can also remedy overall health disparities in the U.S.

How to Improve Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Each organization faces unique needs based on the patients and residents they serve. Consider the following steps to improve patient safety and satisfaction in your facility:

  1. Learn: Explore the culture, language, and beliefs of the groups that your organization serves. Ask: “In what ways is it more difficult for diverse populations to receive quality care at our facility?” Conduct research to identify disparities in patient outcomes.
  2. Acknowledge: Respect patient diversity as important elements of their individual value systems. Affirm that quality care includes sensitivity to a patient’s unique needs.
  3. Act: Take steps to minimize disparities by implementing concrete changes to your organizational systems. Review your internal diversity and hiring practices to find ways to incorporate cultural diversity within your healthcare team. Engage in continuous reflection and new learning to ensure your facility is responding appropriately.

Examples of Cultural Competence in Healthcare

One of the best ways to learn about a new concept is to consider real-world implications. While the specifics of your organization’s patient populations may differ, consider the following examples of cultural awareness in healthcare as you explore how your organization can provide the best care possible.

Cultural Competence Examples:

  • Track changing demographics: A hospital regularly analyzes census data to learn about the communities they serve. The hospital notices a progressive change in their demographic groups, with an increasing number of patients speaking a different language.
  • Connect with community groups: With this information, the hospital reaches out to community groups from the growing patient population within their system. Representatives from the hospital ask community leaders, or cultural brokers, to assist in creating informational materials.
  • Enable communication: The hospital creates pamphlets and flyers in the target community’s language that help explain the health system. Also, to aid communication, the hospital hires interpreters.
  • Provide staff learning opportunities: Nursing professionals in the hospital are provided with training about the cultural values of the community group, with emphasis on how those values intersect with healthcare. Staff is provided with further reading materials to explore on their own. The hospital recognizes that this is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
  • Help patients navigate the system: The hospital places an emphasis on patients’ independence in navigating the healthcare system. Websites are updated to include relevant information, and patient outcomes for the target group are consistently evaluated.

Though this example focuses on a group with diverse linguistic characteristics, there are many factors that your facility might need to consider, such as race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and socioeconomic level. Each situation will vary, but the important thing is to learn about the specific needs of your facility’s patient population and respond effectively.

Want More Help Building the Best Patient Connections and Care?

Nursing professionals’ interactions with patients and residents are a vital part of a facility’s community impact. Learning about cultural competence in healthcare is just the beginning. Don’t miss out on our latest nurse management and patient care insights, delivered right to your inbox, today.