February is Black History Month, but celebrating diversity and improving cultural competence should always be at the top of the healthcare industry's priority list.

Cultural Competence in Healthcare Defined

The American Hospital Association (AHA) defines cultural competence in healthcare as the "ability of systems to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, including the tailoring of healthcare delivery to meet patients' social, cultural and linguistic needs."

AHA asserts that cultural competency is essential to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare.

"A culturally competent healthcare system is one that acknowledges the importance of culture, incorporates the assessment of cross-cultural relations, recognizes the potential impact of cultural differences, expands cultural knowledge, and adapts services to meet culturally unique needs," AHA says.

Why Overcoming Racial Disparity in Healthcare Matters

Disparities in health and healthcare impact the affected groups and limit overall quality care and health gains for the broader population. Therefore, addressing these inequalities is necessary both from an equity standpoint and improving patient-centered care quality in population health.

Health disparities are costly—in both dollars and outcomes:

  • Disparities amount to approximately $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity per year and economic losses due to premature deaths (source)
  • Racial and ethnic minorities have higher morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases. The consequences can range from a greater financial burden to higher activity limitations (source)
  • Non-Hispanic African-Americans had 1.4x cases, 3.7x hospitalizations, and 2.8x deaths due to COVID-19 as white non-Hispanics in 2020 (source)

Benefits of Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Culturally competent clinical care benefits the healthcare organization, patients, and community, according to a Health Research & Educational Trust report.

"Organizations that are culturally competent have improved health outcomes, increased respect and mutual understanding from patients, and increased participation from the local community," the report said.

AHA also enumerates several benefits of becoming a culturally competent healthcare organization (PDF), separating them into three categories:

Social Benefits

  • Increases mutual respect and understanding between patients and the organization
  • Increases trust
  • Promotes the inclusion of all community members
  • Increases community participation and involvement in health issues
  • Assists patients and families in their care

Health Benefits

  • Improves patient data collection
  • Increases preventive care by patients
  • Reduces care disparities in the patient population
  • Increases cost savings from a reduction in medical errors, number of treatments, and legal costs
  • Reduces the number of missed medical visits

Business Benefits

  • Incorporates different perspectives, ideas, and strategies into the decision-making process
  • Decreases barriers that slow progress
  • Moves toward meeting legal and regulatory guidelines
  • Improves efficiency of care services
  • Increases the market share of the organization

As you set both short and long-term goals, think about ways that your organization can provide excellent patient-centered care regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and all other types of diversity.

SCP Health has developed a resource to help jumpstart or augment your planning and strategy. Download this one-pager, Making Transformational Change in Your Community, to get practical tips for how to cultivate a more culturally conscious culture and practice.