Importance of Cultural Competence in Health Care

Promoting diversity and inclusion in the health care setting is not just about reducing health care disparities. A number of health care systems, health plans, national associations, and states believe accounting for the diversity of patients and ensuring your board, clinicians, managers, and staff reflect, understand and address this diversity will improve health care outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and increase market share.

Health care organizations must effectively interact with their patients who come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. To address the lack of clear guidance on how to account for diversity in providing services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health developed the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care in 2000. The CLAS Standards were enhanced in 2013 after a public comment period, a systematic literature review and ongoing consultations with leaders and experts from the health care community. The enhanced CLAS Standards are designed to broaden the reach of cultural and linguistic competency at every point of contact in the health care continuum.

Although adherence to the CLAS standards is voluntary, health care organizations should expect accreditation agencies to evaluate their efforts to address these issues. For example, The Joint Commission has established accreditation standards that directly or indirectly measure an organization’s ability to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services, particularly in the areas of improved communication, cultural competence, patient-centered care, and the provision of language-assistance efforts.

The New England Journal of Medicine is encouraging further research into the impacts of adopting the CLAS standards. Both scientific research and anecdotal information from adopters can help organizations weigh practice options and make business decisions.

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