Understanding why diversity among medical practice staff improves patients’ healthcare experience and outcomes can help shape inclusiveness practices.
It’s not necessary for every patient to see someone exactly like them on a healthcare staff, but for some patients the diversity gap could make a difference in their level of engagement with the healthcare system, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.
Previous reporting by FierceHealthcare has demonstrated the connection between diversity in healthcare management and better patient outcomes, but many diversity programs don’t work the way they’re supposed to.
Douglas Garland Jr., M.S. PharmD, a board member with the Association of Black Health Professionals, points to a potential correlation between states with more black Americans on their healthcare staffs and higher life expectancies for black patients. Since the life expectancy for black Americans is significantly shorter than for other age groups, Garland believes increasing provider diversity might offer an important tool for closing the gap.
Cultural competence also plays a role in improving care for individuals with mental health issues, according to Alfiee Breland-Noble, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. He sees a need for increased diversity among researchers as well as those providing treatment. “If we’re going to have really strong research, we want it to be more generalizable,” he says, “And to get there, we’ve got to bring more people into the fold. At the leadership level and in terms of who participates.”
Breland-Noble points out that cultural competence doesn’t necessarily come from personal experience that perfectly mirrors that of a patient. Rather than requiring diversity with regard to having someone who looks exactly like a patient, a “diversity of perspective and a diversity of experience” can make for a more inclusive healthcare environment, he says. In practical terms, this means both knowledge of common traits among diverse populations as well as an awareness of one’s own biases when interacting with diverse groups.