In a recent episode of “Language is Your Superpower” podcast, we embark on a dynamic and diverse conversation with Samí Haiman-Marrero, President/CEO of URBANDER. As a Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) solution-driven agency, URBANDER assists the corporate, nonprofit, and government sectors with overcoming their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Marketing challenges, with a special focus in the Latino/Hispanic market.
More specifically, as an agency of record for a regional healthcare system, Samí speaks about the importance of providing linguistically and culturally competent care to the increasingly diverse demographic shifts that are happening within U.S. society. “More and more people are realizing how important it is to have a certain level of cultural competency and language proficiency when you are living, working, and playing in communities that are very, very diverse…” Samí highlighted. At the same time, there is still much work to be done.
In an article titled Cultural Competency and Ethnic Diversity in Healthcare, the authors state that the healthcare system continues to be challenged “with cultural competency, and racial, gender and ethnic disparities” particularly with issues outside of the healthcare systems which are “social determinants of health (SDH)” (p. 1). These SDHs are inherent in meeting basic human needs, such as access to healthy foods, quality education and affordable housing, that not only contribute to a person’s physical health but also their mental, emotional, and psychological well-being. Therefore, when a patient is seeking care in a healthcare setting, not only do providers have to consider their medical history, current diagnosis, and treatment, but also how a comprehensive plan of care is maintained once the patient has returned home. As such, healthcare organizations must view each patient holistically. Podcast host Lisa March emphasized the importance of taking “care of the patient more holistically—their family, the environment they are coming home to, their diet, who their caregiver will be—as it takes into account how they live their lives beyond the medical setting.”
Here are three indicators that a healthcare provider is offering a linguistically and culturally competent patient care experience:
Recognizes that seeking healthcare can be a bit scary: Navigating the healthcare system can be complex, and when you couple that with the fact that people seek out healthcare services because they are not feeling well only serves to complicate matters. Therefore, most people engage with healthcare providers with a heightened sense of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. That’s why it is important for healthcare organizations and providers, from general health and wellness to specialties like women’s health and cancer care, to create a roadmap to improve their outreach to the community so that when patients come into the hospital, they know they will be cared for in a linguistically and culturally appropriate manner.
Assesses cultural competency at all levels in healthcare: “At the healthcare level, there is underrepresentation of cultural, gender, and ethnic diversity during training and in leadership.” therefore, learning to understand and effectively communicate, interact, and collaborate with individuals from different cultures is especially important in healthcare. This can also be enhanced by hiring and assessing the language proficiency of multilingual healthcare providers from the very community that is being served as it has shown to minimize disparities and maximize healthcare outcomes. “From the administrative to the clinical team, it is important to provide a culturally aware team and continuous help [to] provide the best quality care that takes into consideration not only cultural norms, religious belief, socioeconomic status but also in the patient’s native language,” the podcast offers.
Speaks the patient’s language with proficiency: Imagine you are seeking healthcare at a provider that does not speak your native or preferred language. How do you communicate what is wrong? How confident would you be about whether they understand your healthcare needs and can effectively address them in a way that is unique to you? A little nerve-racking to think about it, right? Linguistic proficiency begins with speaking, reading, comprehending, and effectively communicating in two (bilingual) or more (multilingual) languages. Whether in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, American Sign Language, or another native form of communicating, healthcare providers must either learn another language or use an interpreter service to ensure that patient care needs are met and to also ensure that appropriate medical terminology is used. As a patient, it is your right to have your medical needs explained in the language of your choice.
As a patient, or family member of a bilingual or multilingual patient, you are an active participant in the care needed. You are essential to creating a quality patient experience which requires that healthcare providers communicate in the patient’s native language(s) and in a culturally competent manner. Remember, this does not only pertain to when you are in the healthcare setting, but also extends to a more holistic form of care that considers the social determinants of health that affect you and your family members once discharged. It also ensures that when the patient goes home, they are supported by a healthcare team with the cultural tools and linguistic knowledge necessary to guide in the healing process.
If you are a healthcare professional, the next step in your cultural and linguistic journey starts today. Test your language proficiency with LTI. Learn more here.