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Cultural competence is an important patient safety tool

Cultural sensitivity is important to patient safety at all stages of care, from outpatient visits to hospitalization and even end-oflife care. “It’s well documented that when people have cultural or language barriers that prevent them from receiving and understanding basic health information, serious errors can and do occur,” said Johna Wasdyke, director of Human Resources Operations at Hallmark Health System. cultural flyer pg 2

For more than a decade, a 15-member diversity steering committee at HHS has been addressing this and similar culturalrelated issues by working with employees in a few key areas:
  1. 1. knowing where patients are coming from – understanding cultural beliefs and values
  2. 2. finding the best way to communicate with patients about important health information, including trained interpreters
  3. 3. checking personal cultural stereotypes at the door.

In 2014, employees are participating in a series of lunchtime “Cultural Conversations” sponsored by the diversity steering committee and featuring presentations by local community advocates for underserved or immigrant populations. These sessions offer real-life examples of the importance of cultural competence. One example was that of a patient whose complaint of severe pain was disregarded because the caregiver believed that people of his ethnicity tended to be overly emotional and loudly expressive. Another example involved a patient with low English language proficiency who simply nodded when asked if she understood her medication instructions and then didn’t follow the regimen when she got home.

“It’s clear that awareness of language issues and cultural issues are crucial to safe outcomes,” said Wasdyke. “As our patient population becomes more diverse, we need to look beneath the surface and be aware of cultural practices and what role they play. We also need to ask the right questions, watch body language and expressions, and really listen.”

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