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WISE WEDNESDAY: Why More Hospitals Should Prioritize Cultural Competency

“Janice,” a hypothetical patient, is female, 46 years old, African-American, and a convenience store clerk living below the poverty level. These traits, particularly her gender, race, and socioeconomic status, immediately elevate her risk of cardiovascular disease.

These are important indicators her doctor, who would probably be male, white, and affluent, needs to keep in mind as he treats her. Several studies have shown that a patient such as Janice might be less likely to have insurance, less likely to have a regular physician, less likely to report symptoms, less likely to seek preventive care, and less informed about the lifestyle changes she should make to improve her health. These combined factors mean Janice is both more likely to have cardiovascular disease and more likely to die from it.

Based on my scholarship on historically underserved populations, from Hurricane Katrina survivors to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there’s often a cultural gap between doctor and patient that too often translates into a gap in health outcomes. Fortunately, there are simple, even obvious improvements that hospitals and medical professionals can make to improve care for patients like Janice. In addition to improving their efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, so that care providers are more reflective of the communities they serve, health care organizations can implement cultural competency training. This type of training is designed to reshape attitudes, beliefs, and practices in an organization to improve the delivery of services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients. Health care professionals should consider the following practices that top hospitals are using to boost the cultural competency of the care they provide...

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