Health Dialog Connections

Why Cultural Respect is Important for Patient Engagement and Healthcare Delivery

Who we are is largely dictated by culture. Often described as a body of beliefs and behaviors; culture includes language, values, customs, actions and how we personally identify ourselves. Culture informs our perceptions of the world, how we make decisions and solve problems. Culture determines what you eat, how you speak, what you wear and even how you care for yourself and your loved ones.

Respecting Culture in Healthcare

Cultural respect means understanding the values and beliefs of a population in order to respond to and meet the needs of diverse patients. Cultural respect should influence how healthcare organizations build care frameworks, conduct and analyze research, engage populations, and build trusting patient-provider relationships.

Here is a personal non-healthcare example of cultural respect: My hairstylist serves a multicultural population in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Men and women of all ages and ethnicities frequent her salon. In fact, she is often the recipient of local awards and praise because of her skills and efforts to be culturally inclusive. One evening after work I visited the salon for a regular hair trim. Upon entering the salon I was surprised to find the windows covered and no men. I asked the receptionist what was going on and she informed me that a young Muslim woman is receiving services and that she cannot be seen by men when she isn’t wearing her Hijab. My hairstylist took the time to adjust her environment and change her schedule to make sure her client felt comfortable and received the best service.

What if every healthcare experience could be modeled this way? What if we could be made to feel comfortable and cared for when we feel the most vulnerable? What if healthcare workers and patient communicators took the time to educate themselves about the culture, ideas and beliefs of patients and used that information to engage and educate patients and provide better care?

As a healthcare provider organization, when you respect culture, you are acknowledging that patients are capable of making the best healthcare choices for themselves and their families. You understand the invisible barriers that may deter a patient from managing a chronic condition effectively or prevent them from seeking care all together. Culturally respectful organizations tailor their engagement strategies, care, and educational materials to fit their patients’ beliefs, attitudes, and needs. As a result, patients: 1) understand their care, 2) trust the answers given to their questions, and 3) feel empowered to manage their own care or enlist the help of family or community resources.

Cultivating Cultural Respect

The National Center for Cultural Competency suggests providers and organizations start by:

  • Acquiring cultural knowledge and acknowledging differences - Spend time in the communities you serve. Learn as much as you can about your population and bring that knowledge into your patient experiences and organizations. Be careful not to mistake cultural knowledge with personal stereotypes. When outside of the healthcare setting you may be able to receive a better understanding of who your patients are as people first.
  • Understanding personal culture - What is your culture? How does your culture shape how you treat people?
  • Conducting a self-assessment - What is important to you in terms of receiving and giving great patient care and customer service?
  • Viewing behaviors within a cultural context- It’s all about perception. Your patient who is struggling with medication adherence may not just be lazy or forgetful, but may have a negative attitude that stems from a past experience, familial beliefs, or financial barriers.

Developing cultural respect is a process that should evolve over time. As new information is learned about your population, incorporate it into your organization’s mission statement, policies and procedures, population engagement efforts, and patient goals.

Cultural Respect at Health Dialog

We believe that individuals respond to our proactive outreach when they believe it has personal relevance to them. We use innovative strategies and techniques to understand specific populations and work closely with our clients to maximize engagement and encourage participation in our programs. We are committed to ensuring the appropriateness and accessibility of our materials. Additionally, as part of orientation and throughout their employment, our health coaches and patient -facing staff receive diversity and sensitivity training. In addition to training, they are equipped with and trained to use tools that help engage and support diverse populations, including the Language Line®, which provides translation resources for over 170 languages. As health coaches learn of special needs a patient may have, they are trained to record that information to make sure the patient’s experience is positive.

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