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Monday, December 3, 2012

Improving Cultural Competency by Effective Patient-Provider Communications

With a growing ethnic population in the US, engaging non-English speaking patients is becoming a priority for many healthcare providers. This presents a number of challenges, but also carries many benefits for patients, practitioners, clinicians and the healthcare industry.

“In the 2010 census, over one-third of the total US population reported their race and ethnicity as that of a minority; this self-reported minority group increased by 29 percent from 2000 to 2010,” says Thomas Buckley, assistant clinical professor of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy.1 Many of the minority groups have ‘limited English proficiency’ (LEP), while others do not speak English at all.2 In addition, Buckley continues that by 2042, non-Hispanic whites will be the minority in the US.

“Healthcare providers today face the challenge of caring for patients from many cultures who have different languages, levels of acculturation, socioeconomic status, and unique ways of understanding illness and healthcare,” say Barrow. In the past, US healthcare firms had limited cause to improve communication with LEP patients and intercultural medical communication in general was lacking. Unfortunately, the cultural disparities in patient-provider relationship for US minority populations has contributed to the disparities of the quality of healthcare and increased the risk of receiving inferior care.3

“In essence, healthcare providers today must learn how to give culturally competent healthcare, making it a priority in their daily work,” Buckley stated. Clinicians, practitioners and providers are now under increasing pressure to deliver culturally competent healthcare.

For example, some cultures consider it unacceptable to seek medical intervention. Cultures such as Chinese, Vietnamese, and Latino are more likely to try alternative therapies before considering Western medication. Pharmaceutical and healthcare firms can readily provide patients and consumers with culturally sensitive literature and content, including medical information leaflets, brochures, website, medicine packaging and other documents, all produced with the help of expert healthcare translation providers.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), “reaching today’s customers requires tapping to their new mind-set.” PwC stated that there are four key traits of the new customer mind-set: instant access to information, customized personalized experience, focus on value, and honesty and transparency. For healthcare providers, addressing the linguistic needs of the patients and consumers can serendipitously boost their market exposure among LEP and multilingual markets.4

Reducing disparities and improving the cultural competency does not come down simply to healthcare translation. Although addressing the linguistic needs and improving the language access can help narrow the gap; raising awareness and continued education among practitioners of the different cultural perspectives to health and the healthcare system can have a longer and lasting impact.


1 Buckley, Thomas E. “Cultural competency: How to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries.” Drug Topics. July 2012.

2 Tschurtz, Brette A, BA; Koss, Richard G, MA; Kupka, Nancy J, PhD, MPH, RN; Williams, Scott C, PsyD. “Language Services in Hospitals: Discordance in Availability and Staff Use.” Journal of Healthcare Management; Nov/Dec 2011; 56, 6; ABI/INFORM Global.

3 Barrow, Su-yan L. “Treating Patients from Diverse Populations.” The Newsmagazine of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. Sept/Oct 2010; 24, 8; ProQuest Health & Medical Complete pg. 30.

4 PricewaterhouseCoopers Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences Industy Group. Customer interaction in the digital age: Pharmaceutical and life science companies tap into the new customer mind-set. 2011.


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