The increasing mobility of the global population and the changing demographics of many countries mean that nearly every industry requires some level of cultural competence. For the healthcare industry, this may be a matter of life and death, for both the institutions and the people they serve.
The need exits at every level, from a culturally competent and inclusive healthcare workforce to medication, medical products, and literature that are accepted and understood by consumers to mutual understanding between medical care providers and patients. Without appropriate cultural competences, patients and customers commonly complain about the way they are treated and experience a lack of respect.
As a basic starting point, employers in the healthcare industry need to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome and respected and knows that their insights and contributions will be heard and considered. The emergence of global healthcare providers, such as hospitals forming relationships across borders, makes this need even more apparent. The establishment of an inclusive employee environment in the medical field is critical for both the recruitment and retention of the best professionals and the creation of a corporate culture of intercultural competence.
In some parts of the world, cultural competence in healthcare is a matter of public policy. Hospitals in the United States, for example, can lose funding and accreditation based on the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act and other regulations if they cannot demonstrate that they effectively serve multicultural and multilingual patients.
One hospital’s approach
Florida’s largest and highest-rated hospital leads by example in the acquisition of cultural intelligence at all levels. Their need was compounded by a significant increase of immigrants to that state combined with many medical tourists coming from Latin America. Together with an external consultant the hospital successfully implemented a multi-pronged training approach.
Hospital leaders began with the end in mind and developed several measurable goals for staff development, patient outcomes, and community outreach. Interviews, as well as an electronic survey, were used to identify needs.
Once these needs were identified and goals were clearly defined, the team created a customized cultural competency training program with a train-the-trainer component. The training program was created for any staff member who would have contact with patients, including managers, dieticians, clergy, and others. Prior to delivery, all sectors reviewed the program to ensure their particular needs would be met.
The effectiveness of the training program was measured by a pre- and post-test of the participants’ cultural competences. All participants practiced ways of teaching what they learned and what they would like to implement for themselves, their teams, those they lead, and the broader organization.
The solution included a one year sustainability plan with support by their office of diversity and inclusion, as well as the delivery of supplementary written and e-learning materials and sharing of best practices through the hospital television and other communication channels. After a year, the hospital organized a reunion in which everyone had a chance to celebrate achievements and discuss struggles.
Ninety-eight percent of participants demonstrated measurable improvement in their cross-cultural competency. One hundred percent thought such training should be shared with others they lead. More than 240 distinct actions were identified for implementation. Among the plans that were most quickly implemented, the hospital:
- changed intake forms to include more demographic information
- expanded evaluation forms to include questions related to culturally competent healthcare delivery by staff
- translated prescriptions into six different languages
- created outreach programs to bring healthcare clinics to communities
- provided employees the opportunity to expand their skills and practice understanding different accents in team workshops
- instituted a policy for all new employees to complete cultural competency training as part of their onboarding process.
© 2014 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.