As healthcare begins to address health disparities, it will be important for provider organizations to prioritize cultural competence.

 By Sara Heath

 – Healthcare is undergoing a seismic shift, with the role of public and population health playing a bigger role in patient care than ever before. Core to that role is the increased focus on health disparities, health equity, and cultural competence in medical care.

According to the National Prevention Information Network, a project during the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), cultural competency is essential for cross-cultural work.

Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations. ‘Culture’ refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. ‘Competence’ implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities.

The concept of cultural competency has become critical as the medical industry confronts issues of healthcare disparities and health inequities. The data indicates that ethnic minority or non-White patients tend to face more social determinants of health and poor health outcomes than White patients.

This fact came to bear during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which struck Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities more than White populations. Although these disparities have long existed in medicine, the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a nationwide racial reckoning, has served as a catalyst for calls for change in medicine.

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