Living in a diverse society has caused us to gain exposure to many cultures with their own specific set of practices. There have been many times where we take this for granted and forget the importance of being sensitive to the culture of our patients. It is yet another hurdle in the challenging practice of medicine that needs to be jumped over.

Level of cultural competence

To be a culturally competent healthcare practitioner, there are certain aspects that need to be addressed. Cultural competence entails the capability of an individual to communicate effectively with those of other cultures.

Campinha-Bacote's Process of Cultural Competence Model makes use of the mnemonic ASKED. The general question of “Have I ASKED myself the right questions?” is being addressed. This mnemonic acts as a self-checker in seeing whether the individual is in sync with being culturally competent. ASKED stands namely for awareness, skill, knowledge, encounters and desire all of which informally assesses one’s level of cultural competence.

Valuing diversity

In being culturally competent we need to be able to accept and value diversity. This requires being able to respect differences with one’s own culture and that of patients. There may be several personal biases but being a healthcare professional means that we need to be able to make amends for these disparities to be able to provide what is best for the patient.

To be able to adequately adapt we need to learn about the practices, beliefs and norms of other cultures. There are cultures wherein male practitioners are not allowed to touch female patients as there are cultures wherein you need to address the head of the family regarding the patient’s situation.

There are also culturally appropriate words or what is also termed as being politically correct that need to be taken note of as the common cultures within your area need to be understood to avoid being offensive. Healthcare professionals have a general moral code in dealing with patients, but despite the intent of being ethical, there are situations where what is thought to be morally acceptable is actually offensive in the culture of the patient. The health professional is the one who has to adjust, not the patient.

Cultural training and Policies

To have an effective practice, the health organisation should inculcate into the organisation training cultural competence and developing policies that are culturally diverse and appropriate. Currently, it is not a common practice for healthcare institutions to incorporate such a programme, but it is one that aids in being more efficient. The US Office of Minority Health (OMH) developed national standards to address the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS). They developed 14 standards which were broken down into: Culturally Competent Care, Language Access Services and Organisational Support for Cultural Competence. The aim was to improve access, quality and outcome of healthcare.

Communication has always been a problem and when not done properly may lead to dissatisfaction, poor comprehension of condition, non-compliance to treatment regimen and an overall drop in the quality of care given. The right attitude is needed to be able to develop the appropriate manner of healthcare delivery by becoming a culturally competent healthcare professional. MIMS

Read more: 
Does race matter? Genomic sequencing may widen racial disparities in cancer care
Single race vs multiracial patients and their health
Legalising euthanasia: The ongoing debate between doctors