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Why is Cultural Competence in Health Care so Important?

Cultural Competence
Cultural Competence

Cultural competence in healthcare is more than a buzzword; it is a cornerstone for achieving equitable, accessible, and compassionate medical services. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the intricate dimensions of cultural competence in healthcare, examining racial disparities, compelling examples of cultural competence, essential components of healthcare systems that embrace it, the sanctity of the right to health, and the unwavering ethical principle of "first do no harm."

Table of Contents:

Racial Disparities in Health Care

Racial disparities in healthcare persist due to deep-rooted systemic biases. One in five Black adults and one in five Hispanic adults report being treated unfairly due to their race during healthcare interactions. Cultural competence is pivotal in reducing these disparities, as it involves healthcare providers understanding and respecting patients' cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and values. This fosters tailored care, ultimately improving health outcomes.

Cultural competence reduces health disparities by ensuring access to medical care without discrimination. Discrimination can take various forms, from racial profiling to unequal treatment based on cultural backgrounds. It helps eliminate these barriers, making healthcare more accessible and equitable for all.

Cultural Competence
Cultural Competence

What is an Example of Cultural Competence in Health Care?

Cultural competence shines when a non-English-speaking patient enters a healthcare facility and encounters a culturally competent provider. In this scenario, the provider ensures effective communication through translation services or materials. This demonstrates profound respect for the patient's culture and language, forging trust and enhancing care. However, the instances of cultural incompetence that occur often stem from bias, as seen in cases where patients' concerns are dismissed based on stereotypes or assumptions.

For example, a Black man in his sixties with bladder cancer symptoms is quickly dismissed without proper evaluation. Instead of valuing this man's opinion about the new pain he is experiencing and his desire to check if something has changed, the doctor's inherent bias led him to be less concerned and more dismissive than he would have been if this man was his own father. The doctor's prejudice leads to a tragic outcome, illustrating the dire consequences of cultural incompetence.

What is Needed in Culturally Competent Healthcare Systems?

To create culturally competent healthcare systems, healthcare workers must undergo training to sensitize them to diverse patient needs and address their biases. This training should help them unlearn the false cultural assumptions they’ve naturally internalized and empower them to provide care that respects different customs, beliefs, and preferences.

Culturally competent healthcare systems must also uphold equitable laws, oaths, morals, and values. This includes adhering to non-discrimination policies and promoting diversity in healthcare leadership and staff.

The Right to Health as a Fundamental Human Right

Every individual has a fundamental human right to health and bodily autonomy, as articulated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 25 states that 'Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services.' This means that no one should be denied medical treatment or subjected to discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, or cultural background. Upholding this right ensures that healthcare is accessible to all, without any form of prejudice. Article 25 emphasizes the importance of medical care as a vital component of an adequate standard of living, further underlining the significance of ensuring health and bodily autonomy for every individual.

For instance, denying medical treatment to a patient due to their cultural background violates their right to health. Cultural competence in healthcare actively works to prevent such discriminatory practices, making sure that all individuals receive the care they need and deserve. In specific cases, individuals like Garnet Harper in Ontario and Sheila Annette Lewis in Alberta have brought attention to the complex intersection of medical policy and individual rights. Harper was denied a kidney transplant due to his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine, while Lewis, who fought against COVID vaccine requirements for organ transplants, sought a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court and has sadly passed away. These cases highlight the ethical and human rights concerns surrounding access to life-saving medical procedures, as the denial of treatment based on vaccination status raises questions about the right to life and the right to death with dignity.

Garnet Harper Sheila Annette Lewis

Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath "First Do No Harm"

The guiding principle of "first do no harm" stands as a fundamental ethical tenet in the realm of medicine, underscoring the utmost importance of prioritizing patient well-being above all else. While the traditional Hippocratic Oath is widely recognized, contemporary iterations of this oath are still in active use by medical practitioners today, signifying their unwavering commitment to providing ethical, compassionate, and culturally sensitive care to patients.

During the pandemic, many doctors were questioned for their lack of transparency and insistence on taking a gene therapy that had proven negative side effects, even death as a result. There are still cases today where doctors and hospitals are being sued for negligence in not maintaining their hippocratic earth and doing what is actually best for the patient.

Healthcare is NOT a Right, it is a Responsibility

While healthcare may not be universally recognized as a legal right, it is undoubtedly a moral and ethical responsibility of governments to society. All healthcare professionals from doctors to paramedics to social workers are accountable for upholding their medical oaths, receiving training in providing service to diverse patient populations, and practicing cultural competence to ensure no one receives subpar care due to bias.

Cultural competence in healthcare is not merely a concept; it is the path to addressing racial disparities, upholding fundamental human rights, and fulfilling the ethical responsibilities of the medical profession. It ensures equitable, accessible, and compassionate care for all individuals, regardless of their cultural or racial origins. It is a moral imperative in the pursuit of a healthier, more equitable world.

Your voice is crucial in holding governments, administrators, and doctors accountable for delivering the service that society requires and deserves. As an inclusive company or people leader it is imperative that your health policies reflect culturally competent initiatives. If you’d like to review your policies to ensure you’re on the right track let’s set up a call to discuss how


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