Cultural competence is a term that’s used increasingly in reference to medical and mental health care, but its definition, measurement and effect remains fairly elusive. Many systems view cultural competence as a self attested tick box or use lived experience as a proxy, both of which undervalue the benefits of culturally competent care. While some skeptics may consider it a buzzword, cultural competence is a path toward higher, more equitable care.
To start understanding the importance and effect of cultural competence, we need to understand that cultural competence is actually an umbrella of clinical frameworks, knowledge and skills. The cultural competence umbrella refers to a complex integration and ability to effectively use elements such as cultural knowledge and skill to provide meaningful and beneficial healthcare to individuals of varying cultures (Lavizzo-Mourey & Mackenzie, 1996; Smith, 1998; Sperry, 2012). The cultural competence umbrella encompasses some of the following: cultural knowledge, skill, encounters and awareness. These elements are vital to more effective, more human clinician-patient interactions.
Our goal is to make cultural competence the new standard in healthcare. We have translated decades worth of research into a cohesive framework to measure and improve cultural competence. We worked to parse out the core elements of cultural competence and determined systematic ways to measure these. We were able to test these in our marketplace product, which led to high patient retention and satisfaction.
- Education and Training
- Work Experience
- Lived Experience
- Communities of Interest
- Sensitivity and Awareness
These elements of cultural competence combine to provide more effective and personal treatment. Incorporating cultural competence into treatment not only increases patient satisfaction, health-seeking behaviors and treatment adherence, but positively affects clinical outcomes and safety (Brach, Fraser, 2002; Colins, et al., 1999; AHRQ, 2016). Patients who get culturally competent care trust not only their own doctor more, but doctors in general, helping to (re)build trust and engagement with the healthcare system (Penner, 2013). Clearer communication and increased understanding through cultural competence can help eliminate unnecessary testing and procedures, decrease risk of errors and harm and encourage patients to make, keep and follow post-appointments (Brach & Fraser, 2016). Increased patient retention, adherence and satisfaction is a major goal of health systems and cultural competence is a pivotal way to achieve it.
Culturally competent care makes sense, both as a bottom line and as a standard of care. Patients deserve care that sees them as whole, multifaceted individuals and clinicians deserve to feel confident in treating communities that they are passionate about.
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