What Is Cultural Competence in Healthcare?

April 19, 2021
April 19, 2021

Now more than ever, healthcare professionals and everyone supporting them in the industry need to work to break down any barriers to care. No one should receive substandard care due to conditions or situations beyond their control that can be addressed to ensure better outcomes. One way many organizations are making an effort to meet more patients’ needs is to focus on cultural competence.

According to Health Affairs, “Cultural competence in health care is not merely a box to check. Rather, it is a foundational element of providing high-quality health care and a bedrock for meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population of patients. Cultural competence becomes effective when those working for health care providers and health systems—from the sanitation staff to the chief medical officer—systematically consider how to integrate it into their approach in delivering care and their interactions with patients” (Chiu, 2019).

What Is Cultural Competence in Healthcare?

To understand cultural competence, a healthcare provider needs to pay attention to how culture can have an impact on experiences with the healthcare system. For example, cultural details varying among patients “can include a range of factors such as ethnicity, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or peer group, geography, and other sociological characteristics. Cultural competence involves being conscious of one’s own biases and how that may affect how you interact with or provide care to others and understanding where differences may arise in the health care system related to culture so that those can be addressed during the provision of care for better patient experiences and health outcomes” (George Mason University [GMU] School of Nursing, 2019).

Cultural competence needs to start at the beginning of any encounter with healthcare. For example, a realistic solution is “to prepare registration personnel with a script or form to help identify those patients who may need additional explanation of how the process works or how many bills they can expect to receive” (GMU, 2019).

National Standards for Culturally Competent Care

To demonstrate the national importance of encouraging a culturally competent approach in healthcare, “THE U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had developed guidelines for providing culturally competent care. The National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (The National CLAS Standards) aim to improve health care quality and advance health equity by establishing a framework for organizations to serve the nation's increasingly diverse communities” (HHS, 2018). Learn about implementing them.

The Benefits of Cultural Competence for Healthcare

A MedCity News article from 2019 discusses a Health Research & Educational Trust study showing that “Culturally competent care benefits the organization, patients, and the community, according to Health Research & Educational Trust. ‘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 (MedCity News, 2019).

The article goes on to outline three significant benefits of becoming a culturally competent healthcare organization. They are:

Business benefits that include “enhancing the efficiency of care services, increasing the market share of the organization, decreasing barriers that slow progress, helping to meet legal and regulatory guidelines, and incorporating different perspectives, ideas, and strategies into the decision-making progress.”

Health benefits that include reducing care disparities in patient population, enhancing preventive care, improving collection of patient data, and reducing the number of medical errors, treatments, and medical visits.”

Social benefits that “include increasing trust, promoting community member inclusion, involving the community in health issues, assisting patients and families in their care, promoting patient and family health responsibility, and increasing mutual respect and understanding for patients and the organization” (MedCity News, 2019).


Chiu, H., “Cultural Competence Is Key To Meeting Patients' Needs: One Perspective From New York City,” Health Affairs, September 19, 2019, Retrieved at https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20190917.271436/full/.

George Mason University School of Nursing, “’Tell Me Your Story’: How to Provide Health Care in a Culturally Diverse Environment,” November 18, 2019, Retrieved at https://nursing.gmu.edu/news/581596.

HHS, “The National CLAS Standards,” 10/2/2018, Retrieved at https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=2&lvlid=53.

MedCity News, “The Need for Cultural Competence in Healthcare,” September 4, 2019, Retrieved at https://medcitynews.com/?sponsored_content=the-need-for-cultural-competence-in-healthcare