Roadmap for Hospitals: Culturally Competent Patient Care

The Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit organization that evaluates and accredits hospitals, has announced new standards designed to improve access to healthcare that is both respectful of and responsive to an increasingly diverse patient population.

As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, the healthcare system faces new challenges in its efforts to better serve the needs of its changing population.

To that end, hospitals and healthcare providers must be prepared to make the necessary accommodations that are both respectful of and responsive to an increasingly diverse patient population. That's according to a new report issued by the Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit organization that evaluates hospitals.

The commission, whose accreditation can affect whether a hospital gets Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, recently announced new standards on effective communication and cultural competence designed to improve patient care. Hospitals will have until next year to integrate the practices before the Joint Commission starts grading them in 2012.

Improving communication between patients and healthcare providers means patients' needs and wants will be better understood and addressed, thereby enabling patients to understand and participate in their own care, the report says.

"Every patient that enters the hospital has a unique set of needs, clinical symptoms that require medical attention and issues specific to the individual that can affect his or her care," the commission's report says. "As patients move along the care continuum, it is important for hospitals to be prepared to identify and address not just the clinical aspects of care, but also the spectrum of each patient's demographic and personal characteristics."

Unfortunately, effective communication is often inhibited by a number of factors, including language and cultural differences, a patient's hearing, speaking or visual impairments, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age.

The Joint Commission's 102-page "road map" is full of practical suggestions aimed at assisting healthcare providers and hospital administrators in implementing new standards to improve communication, cultural competence and patient- and family-centered care.

The recommendations come in response to increased research showing that poor communication between patients and healthcare providers results in more deaths and/or injuries, increased healthcare costs, a decrease in the quality of healthcare and poor patient satisfaction.

"A growing body of research documents that a variety of patient populations experience decreased patient safety, poorer health outcomes and lower quality care based on race, ethnicity, language, disability and sexual orientation," the report says. "As cultural communication, mobility and other basic patient needs go unmet, hospitals will continue to put themselves and their patients at risk for negative consequences."

Specifically, the Joint Commission's guide addresses ways healthcare providers can:

  • Improve overall patient–provider communication

  • Develop language access services for patients (or providers) who speak languages other than English

  • Translate materials into other languages

  • Respect, understand and address different cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs

  • Address the needs of patients with disabilities, including those with speech, physical or cognitive communication needs, as well as those who are blind/low vision and those who are deaf/hard of hearing

  • Address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients

The new standards tackle a number of issues across the healthcare continuum from admission and assessment to treatment and discharge/transfer to end-of-life care, the report says. In most cases, hospital administrators will need to provide training as they move to implement these new standards.

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