The Woman Who Fell From the Sky

What would you do if you were traveling abroad and needed medical care, but did not speak the language? How would you tell the treating physician what is wrong with you? What if you tried to tell her you had a sprained shoulder, but were misunderstood and they started to treat you for chest pain? What if they thought you were psychotic because they could not understand what you were saying and you were dressed differently from everyone else?

011-Woman-from-the-Sky-smIn 1983, Rita Patino Quintero was found in Johnson City, Kansas digging through trash cans and talking incoherently. She was oddly dressed and seemed to be claiming she “fell from the heavens.” She was taken to Larned State Hospital, a state psychiatric facility, where physicians diagnosed her as schizophrenic. To support their diagnosis, providers noted her unusual statements, her depression and aggression, and the fact she dressed in layers and refused to bathe. While at Larned, she was treated with psychotropic medications and eventually developed tardive dyskinesia, a condition brought on by long-term use of psychotropic medications and characterized by involuntary movements.

After twelve years of hospitalization, Quintero was finally released in 1995 at the behest of the Kansas Advocacy & Protective Services (KAPS) agency. They found a note in her file from 1983 indicating the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City told Larned personnel that Rita matched the description of a Tarahumara Indian, a northern Mexican tribe. KAPS convinced the hospital to release her and allow her to return to Mexico.

This case is an extreme example of what can happen when health care providers ignore a patient’s language needs and cultural context. You can read more of Rita’s story in my recent article on the Importance of Cultural Competence in Health Care – Part Two. Here is Part One in this series.

My Personal News Feed

My primary source of news these days is my Twitter feed. I joined the site later than most, and avoided the temptation to follow my friends and family so I could keep track of what they are having for dinner. I mostly follow news sources, which means Twitter is like my own personal news feed. (Click the image below to follow me.)

I follow and click through to lots of articles on Vox and Politico. Two recent articles on these sites deal with an issue I discussed in a recent article for AHLA Connections: how should the changing U.S. demographics change how health care companies operate? The main point of my article was health care providers need to embrace cultural competence to be competitive in the future.  If we are going to design our health care systems to meet the needs of our patients, we need to be able to communicate with our patients and understand how their culture affects their health care needs.

Ezra Klein from Vox discusses how the changing U.S. demographics are changing the nation’s media business. The old media was dominated by white men, and the stories they told were those of interest to white men. The new media is more diverse and the stories that go viral on social media sites are those that touch on a reader’s core identity, including her race, ethnicity and sexual orientation:

The internet has set off an explosion of media outlets, so more kinds of stories are being tried. There’s a vast increase in reader data, so it’s clearer which stories get read. And audiences now have the power to send stories viral, so there’s more reward to writing about issues that affect people who may not already be part of your core audience. There are dark sides to the chase for viral traffic, of course, but on the whole, I think this is a pretty positive development in American journalism: it’s helping us realize we were systematically giving too little attention to stories that weren’t of interest to the kinds of people who dominated newsrooms.

Writing for Politico, Doug Sosnick argues the present day is a “hinge moment” due to the changing U.S. demographics and the 2016 presidential election will be a bridge from the past elections, when a majority of voters were white, to future elections when the full effects of the new demographics will emerge as a factor:

As we begin to settle in to a post-industrial, interconnected digital world in an emergent multi-ethnic society, the 2016 presidential campaign is likely to close out a long era in American politics—a shift that is going to change which voters matter and which states matter.

Sosnick concludes:

While the 2016 presidential election is likely to reflect the last remnants of this bygone era, the candidate running for president in 2016 who best understands how the country is changing and runs a campaign based on the America of the future rather than the America of the past is most likely to be our 45th president.

There are probably numerous other articles that make similar points. The smart money is on organizations that compete around the innovations required to adapt to the future U.S. demographics, not its past.

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.