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March 2011


Cultural Competency - Increase Quality of Care and Improve Patient Compliance

The scenarios to the right are real-life challenges patients can face each day. These challenges can result in healthdisparities – preventable differences in people’s ability to achieve optimal health.

Quality health care requires effective communication between patients and their health care professionals. However, nearly half of all physicians in the United States report that their ability to provide quality care is affected by difficulty communicating with patients because of language or cultural barriers.1 The Institute of Medicine and the National Quality Forum have outlined measures that physicians and their practices can take to help reduce these barriers and improve communication between physicians and their patients who speak foreign languages.2

Cultural competency in health care is the ability of health care professionals to understand a patient's diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, and to customize interventions to meet the patient's social, cultural and linguistic needs. Cultural competency training can help practitioners build skills to better understand, and to communicate and effectively interact with patients in cross-cultural encounters.2 

The challenges health care professionals face in providing quality health care to all of their patients will continue to grow as the population continues to diversity in the United States. Although disparities can stem from many factors beyond the physician-patient encounter, the ability of physicians to communicate effectively with patients and understand their cultural and social context is critical in effectively caring for a diverse patient population.1

Training Resources

  • A Physician's Guide to Culturally Competent Care – U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:  Explore engaging cases and learn about cultural competency in health care. Receive nine free CME credits (physicians and physician assistants) or nine contact hours (nurse practitioners). For more information visit: https://cccm.thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov.
  • Quality Interaction – America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP): Through this clinical online program, increase awareness of racial and ethnic disparities in health care, and the importance of effective cross-cultural care. Earn 2.5 free CME, CEU or CCU credits. For more information visit http://www.ahip.org/disparities/QIModules/quality.html.


1James D. Reschovsky, Ellyn R. Boukus.  Modest and Uneven: Physician Efforts to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities. Issue Brief No. 130. February 2010. Center for Studying Health System Change.

2Betancourt, Joseph R., et al., “Defining Cultural Competence: A Practical Framework for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care,” Public Health Reports, Vol. 118 (July/August 2003).




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