Guide outlines steps to become a culturally competent hospital

It may not be easy, but it's possible to become a "culturally competent" hospital, according to a new guide released by the Equity of Care initiative and the American Hospital Association's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence.

For those that take the necessary steps, the benefits are enormous and include improved health outcomes, increased participation from the local community and possibly lower costs, states the "Becoming a Culturally Competent Health Care Organization" guide.

Cultural competence is the ability to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, and tailoring healthcare delivery methods to meet their social, cultural and linguistic needs, the guide explains. But it's especially difficult to educate patients about their health status if there are language barriers, health literacy gaps and cultural differences in communication styles.

The guide outlines the benefits, steps and educational techniques necessary to becoming culturally competent, which is critical if organizations are going to reduce healthcare and racial disparities. "The steps to becoming culturally competent begin with understanding the background of the community and patient population, the effect that cultural influences have on care delivery, and the skills needed by clinicians and staff," the AHA announced. "Effective educational programs and training for hospital staff include a cultural assessment, multiple training methods, ongoing teaching, and measurement and tracking."

Organizations have taken steps to become more sensitive to the needs of diverse populations. A survey by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, found 81 percent of hospitals educate all clinical staff during orientation about how to address the unique cultural and linguistic factors affecting the care of diverse patients and communities, and 61 percent of hospitals require all employees to attend diversity training. While this is a good start, the guide says hospitals need to do more to make sure hospitals meet the care needs of all their patients.

The guide cites the importance of following National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards in Health and Health Care and also points to the efforts of Lutheran Medical Center, a 468-bed acute care hospital and trauma center in Brooklyn, N.Y., which estimates its patients and staff speak 73 different languages and celebrate 30 different ethnic holidays.

The hospital created a cultural competence department staffed by a cultural initiatives coordinator, vice president of cultural competence and a patient relations staff of multilingual and multicultural individuals. Hospital staff and medical residents must receive cultural competence training. The results: Through outreach and growth in the ethnic and religious groups in the area, the hospital is consistency occupied to capacity and reports high patient satisfaction scores with healthcare delivery.

To learn more:
- read the announcement and guide (.pdf)
- see the survey
- here are the CLAS standards