In some ways, mainstream healthcare in the U.S. has long been shaped by a one-size-fits-all model based on which healthcare providers design treatment plans that seek to address each patient's unique medical needs. Industry standards offer healthcare providers the structure and tools they need for consistency. With such standardization comes the expectation of equal treatment of all patients.
Equality in patient experience and treatment is ideal, but it is not as simple or prevalent. Bias, stereotyping and unequal treatment based on cultural differences can affect healthcare experiences. A provider's assumptions and implicit bias can lead to misdiagnosis as well as negative patient experience and ineffective treatment over time.
Responding to the need for greater awareness and cultural competency in the healthcare field, Northern Kentucky University's Bachelor of Science in Health Science online program provides students with opportunities to study cultural issues in healthcare.
What Is Cultural Competency?
Cultural competency applies to many fields of work and types of interactions. Course material provided by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) calls it an "ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures."
The CDC defines the broad concept of culture itself as "the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings." It also states that "workers need to be aware of, and sensitive to, cultural diversity, life situations, and other various factors that shape a person's identity."
How Should Cultural Competency and Awareness Be Applied to Healthcare Services?
An individualized healthcare plan should demonstrate no bias whatsoever. As the CDC says, "The first step is an open and nonjudgmental attitude." Healthcare services and treatment should take into account various differences in cultural and societal norms, including stigma regarding healthcare, perceptions of Western medicine, along with communication preferences, unique to each patient and their life experience.
In addition to negatively affecting the patient's experience, a provider's implicit biases or lack of awareness of cultural norms might unconsciously drive provider assumptions about the root causes of a condition and therefore its treatment, both short and long term. Plus, cultural differences may also shape a patient's opinions about a treatment, which in turn could affect their adherence to the treatment plan.
Hence, open and nonjudgmental communication on a number of topics, including patient history, lifestyle habits and routines, is essential to accurately assessing a patient's situation and the possible roots of healthcare issues. Transparent communication that includes the merits and risks of potential treatment plans in a manner that is comfortable and acceptable to the patient is paramount. The goal is an improved patient experience as well as the long-term effectiveness of a treatment plan.
What Are Some Challenges Related to Cultural Competency in Healthcare Work?
Developing responsive healthcare through open communication and awareness of cultural and societal variances must not be based on generalizations. Although each individual's experiences, lifestyle choices, habits and opinions may be informed and affected by their culture, everyone is unique. An understanding of a patient's experience with and reaction to possible healthcare and treatment should be built from information gathered directly from that patient.
A sense of cultural awareness and responsiveness combined with clear and honest communication make up the backbone of a provider's incorporation of unique patient information. Otherwise, conscious or unconscious stereotyping of a culture, whether well-intentioned or based on implicit bias, may result in negative patient experiences and misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment plans.
The study of cultural considerations and global perspectives in healthcare and issues affecting today's aging populations are core topics of study in NKU's online health science bachelor's degree program. Developing sensitivity and knowledge for addressing differences can help providers move toward culturally responsive and effective healthcare services.
Learn more about NKU's online B.S. in Health Science program.
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