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The Challenges of Delivering Culturally Competent Care

The challenge of delivering culturally competent care

One of the next frontiers in delivering excellent health care—one that will come to the forefront as health care reform extends coverage to a more diverse population—will be mastering the art of culturally competent care.

Understanding a patient’s cultural values not only shows respect for the patient, it also is essential for gathering necessary clinical information efficiently, said Monica Villalta, the diversity director for the Mid-Atlantic States region. Thus, providers are alert to a wide range of factors that can influence a patient’s perspective.

Culturally competent care may lead to:

  • decreased rates of hospitalization for preventable causes for groups most at-risk.
  • increased patient satisfaction.
  • increased employee satisfaction due to better communications with patients.
  • containment of rising health care costs.

 “Language is but one component of culturally competent care,” Villalta said. “There are health decisions based on beliefs, attitudes, and shared experiences. According to KP’s National Diversity department, organizations that provide culturally competent care acknowledge and understand cultural diversity in the clinical setting, respect members’ health beliefs and practices, and value cross-cultural communication.

Meeting new members’ needs

Villalta and the Diversity department were instrumental in helping the Mid-Atlantic States’ ensure that the new members’ needs were met. 

“We need to do this effectively and not just piecemeal,” Villalta said. “For health care organizations seeking to grow and retain their patients, this is not a wish. This is a must.”

The challenges are many, including engaging new patients in preventive care. For instance, members and patients may come from a country or culture where the patient-doctor relationship is strictly hierarchical and patients do not ask—or answer—questions about their own care.

Villalta always underscores her point by posing this question in her training courses: “If you are going to have the right diagnosis and ensure the patient complies with instructions—how can you do this if you don’t understand each other?"

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