|Overview on Healthcare Disparities|
Cultural Competence & Health Care Disparities
By Fernando O. Rivera, FACHE
The overall need for increased access to health care continues to grow in the United States as our population grows and demographic trends evolve.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 100 million minorities living in this country. And that number continues to rise.
With such a significant minority population, it is important for health care executives to be cognizant of the unique health care needs of minorities and the barriers to health care access they face. As health care professionals, we know there are health disparities among minorities but it is also important to recognize the challenges facing different ethnic groups.
For instance, studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Hispanics are about 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease than Caucasians and have a higher risk of poorly controlled high blood pressure. Moreover, obesity is a major health problem affecting more than 56 percent of African American women and 37 percent of African American men age 20 and older.
Health care education and education in general is one of the keys to successfully addressing these health issues. A recent study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that lower educational attainment and income averages are significant obstacles to receiving timely and appropriate health care among minorities.
Low education can impair a person's ability to navigate a complex health care delivery system, communicate with health care providers and understand providers' instructions. Thus, health education can be a powerful tool providers use to give patients much-needed information to live healthy lives.
In addition, it is important to increase cultural competency among staff because to begin to narrow the health disparity gap among minorities, we need to first understand the socioeconomic, religious and cultural values of these patients. This is important to providing better health outcomes as cultural competency improves the connection between patient and doctor. For example, providers that understand the military culture are more like to connect with their patients who are Veterans.
According to a report from Georgetown University, the lack of cultural competency may, in fact, be a major contributing factor to patient dissatisfaction. The study also outlines several ways health care systems can take proactive steps to creating a more cultural competent organization including, developing training to increase cultural awareness, knowledge and skills; actively recruiting minorities; adding culture-specific attitudes and values into health promotion tools; and providing multilingual interpreter services when needed.
By recognizing the diverse needs of our minority patients through cultural competency and health education promotion, we can do a better job of meeting the medical needs of these growing populations today and in the future.