Healthcare News & Insights

Key strategies for hospitals treating patients from diverse backgrounds

The country’s population is more diverse than ever. So today’s hospitals face unique challenges when providing care to patients of different ethnicities.

dv1954038Even if your hospital isn’t in a large metropolitan area, it’s still likely that patients will come in speaking multiple languages and with various cultural traditions, not all of which align with traditional healthcare practices. And this can create barriers to providing them with appropriate care.

So what steps should hospitals take to improve this problem? The American Hospital Association released a guide with steps hospitals can follow to better care for patients while keeping their cultural differences in mind.

Understanding other cultures

According to the guide, titled, “Becoming a Culturally Competent Health Care Organization,” addressing this issue starts by considering your patient mix. Survey the communities your hospital serves so you’ll know the demographics of your population. That way, your hospital will be able to take steps to tailor its care to the unique patients in your area.

Once you’ve figured out the demographics info, you can begin training hospital staff to become more culturally aware. Start by assessing how familiar they are with people from other cultures, particularly those your hospital serves. Then, give them tools to improve their knowledge of and interactions with patients from different backgrounds. This can include a wide range of activities and tactics.

Example: Advocate General Lutheran Hospital in Chicago was looking to increase staff members’ cultural competency to better treat its diverse patients. A number of interventions were needed because staff had little knowledge of the issues that could lead to care disparities, such as language barriers.

To solve these problems, the hospital made cultural awareness training a key part of its employee orientation program with new hires. Additionally, several staff members were asked to serve on a diversity committee. The committee organizes events celebrating different cultures that allow all hospital staff to interact with members of various ethnic groups.

The hospital also made strides toward addressing care disparities in a significant segment of its patient population by creating a cardiovascular center catering to the needs of South Asians. The goal of the center is to educate South Asians about the risk of cardiovascular disease, and arm them with tools for prevention and treatment.

Industry standards for diversity

For further guidance to make hospitals and their staffs more culturally aware, the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) were established as a blueprint to follow for healthcare entities.

According to the report, the ultimate goal of the CLAS standards is to “provide effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsible to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs.”

The CLAS standards specifically address the following areas:

  • Governance, leadership and workforce. From the top down, hospitals should promote health equality for all through its policies and practices. Hiring practices should focus on creating a diverse staff at all levels, and every staff member should receive regular training and education relating to diversity.
  • Communication and language assistance. Patients who have limited knowledge of English should be offered language assistance services, such as translators, so they can receive care in a timely manner. These services should be provided by trained professionals who are experts in the language spoken. Patients should be made aware of these services in their native language both verbally and in writing.
  • Engagement, continuous improvement and accountability. Once diversity goals and policies have been established, hospitals should do their best to incorporate them into every aspect of daily operations. Progress should be continuously monitored and measured so areas where improvement is needed can be quickly identified. Demographics data for surrounding areas should also be regularly updated. And the whole process should be transparent to encourage accountability.

By adhering to these principles when developing a strategy to promote an understanding of other cultures, hospitals will be able to enhance their delivery of care and fully serve all members of their communities.

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