It may sound obvious. But many years working in and with hospitals has taught me that many health care providers, although they want to treat their patients in a culturally and spiritually sensitive manner, often don’t know how. It seems that every day as our country becomes increasingly diverse, health care clinicians are confronted with someone from a cultural or ethnic group they have never encountered before.
At the same time we realize that:
- Responding to the unique needs of each patient and their loved ones contributes to patient-centered and family-focused care and higher patient satisfaction.
- The Joint Commission holds hospitals accountable for addressing and maintaining patient rights. These rights include the accommodation of cultural, religious, and spiritual values and practices.
The best health care providers understand that it is impossible to know all the cultural, ethnic, and spiritual nuances one will confront in caring for patients and families. Thus, the rise of the term “cultural humility.”
We need to be aware that accommodating culture and religion has to be part of our discussion with the patient and family almost literally from the moment we meet them.
Those clinicians who are willing to be humble and to form a team with the patient as opposed to dictating to them or thinking they know what is best for the patient will succeed in helping the patient heal.
At the same time building our knowledge and skills at least about the most common cultures we encounter is necessary and helpful. Here are three resources that can improve your knowledge and skills:
First is Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient- and Family-Centered Care: A Roadmap for Hospitals, a free online resource developed by the Joint Commission with the expertise of board certified chaplains affiliated with the Association of Professional Chaplains and HealthCare Chaplaincy.
Cultural competency is a particular expertise of board certified chaplains, whose standard of practice and code of ethics requires them to serve all people regardless of who they are or their religious beliefs.
The Roadmap for Hospitals is a guide to inspire and support hospitals as they integrate concepts to improve their communication, cultural competence, and patient- and family-centered care. Example practices and “how to” information are included to help hospitals implement the recommendations and comply with related new and existing Joint Commission standards.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of patient safety. For many individuals, effective communication can be inhibited by language and cultural differences, or by the patient’s hearing, speaking, or visual impairments, ability to understand and act on health information, cognitive impairments, disease, or disability.
Communication issues have been shown to be the main underlying cause of sentinel events reported to The Joint Commission, and the literature shows that communication vulnerable patients are at increased risk of medical error.
There are significant research data documenting health disparities faced by various groups and subpopulations related to race, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. These disparities are linked to poorer health outcomes and lower quality care. As the diversity of our nation continues to grow, there is an identifiable need to provide hospitals with more robust guidance to address the needs of the populations they serve.
The second resource is A Dictionary of Patients’ Spiritual & Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals.
Third is Cultural & Spiritual Sensitivity – A Learning Module for Health Care Professionals.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not apply in cultural competence where there is no one right way.
The Rev. George Handzo is vice president for chaplaincy care leadership and practice at HealthCare Chaplaincy in New York and a past president of the Association of Professional Chaplains.
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