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How to Provide Culturally Competent Care Through Telehealth

How to Provide Culturally Competent Care Through Telehealth

Culturally competent care effectively meets social and cultural needs by addressing issues like language barriers, low literacy rates, and lack of knowledge about racial and ethnic minority health. This approach to care can help providers and organizations improve health outcomes, increase the quality of care, and move closer to eliminating ethnic and racial health disparities.

Social determinants of health can create and exacerbate mental health conditions, hindering people’s ability to access the care they need. For example, one of the five categories of social determinants of health is access to quality care. Without cultural competency, quality care is hard to find for people who come from different backgrounds, especially when there are language or cultural barriers.

However, health care services that put patient values, beliefs, and behaviors first can help ensure your organization is delivering culturally competent care. Commitment to cultural competence begins by recognizing that healthcare is constantly evolving and patients deserve to have the care they need without fear of being misunderstood.

The importance of cultural competence

Currently, racial and ethnic minorities make up about a third of the U.S population. By 2055, they are expected to become the majority, according to Cigna. With an increasingly diverse population, the likelihood of people having limited English proficiency, less adherence to Western cultural norms, and more unique social and cultural needs might lead to larger healthcare disparities.

By practicing cultural competency and maintaining mutual respect and increased understanding between providers and patients, everyone benefits. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), incorporating culturally competent strategies can lead to better communication and experience, better information, and improved patient-provider matching.

Additionally, the Health Research & Educational Trust highlights three other benefits of cultural competence:

  • Business benefits: practicing cultural competence helps with the efficiency of care services, decreases barriers, increases overall the market share of an organization, and incorporates different perspectives.
  • Health benefits: implementing cultural competency can lead to collecting patient data and improving treatment, reducing medical errors, incorporating preventative care, and reducing health care disparities for various patient populations.
  • Social benefits: executing cultural competency also leads to cultivating mutual respect and understanding for both providers and patients, increasing overall trust, and promoting inclusion of all community members.

With the implementation of cultural competency, everyone involved can benefit greatly. While it is almost impossible to know everything about every culture, you can be one step closer to providing culturally competent care for your patients with the right approach.

Providing culturally competent care through telehealth

It can be difficult for individuals living in rural areas to find a provider who can understand and engage with their culture. Issues like language barriers and lack of innate trust in receiving care from providers who are not part of their cultural group can pose an enormous challenge.

Telehealth gives access to patients looking for a provider who can better understand their culture. Regardless of where a patient lives, telehealth can connect them with a provider who can better relate to their experiences.

While cultural competency takes time and effort, with practice, your organization can provide care to your patients with their beliefs, culture, and values in mind.

Here are just a few ways providers can practice cultural competency through telehealth:

  1. Don’t make assumptions. When it comes to telehealth, not everyone knows how to use technology. So, being patient and adaptable can make a huge difference in offering competent care as a provider. Furthermore, mental health is stigmatized in many communities. Stigma often comes from a lack of understanding or fear, so it is important to be patient, not assume that everyone knows about mental illnesses, and be open to teaching.
  2. Have concise and thorough explanations. English is not everyone’s first language, and language accessibility is critical. By keeping answers simple and easy to understand, people can better understand their course of treatment. Long explanations can take away from adequately diagnosing or treating people. In some cases, providing professional interpreting services or hiring bilingual staff as medical interpreters can help to navigate complex conversations.
  3. Withhold judgments. Shared-decision making is standard in other cultures, like big decisions related to a family member’s health. Along with shared decision making, when a patient makes a choice about their health, try to respect it. When patients understand their options and course of action for their health and want to go another route that is aligned with their culture, respect is essential. In addition, many cultures may use alternative treatment instead of relying on Western medicine. By making an effort to understand a patient’s traditional health beliefs and practices, explaining their course of treatment can be more manageable.
  4. Accommodate and educate. Teach patients about techniques or technologies and find culturally accommodating alternatives when possible. For example, some people will not know how to use laptops or computers with ease. Teaching them and being patient can mitigate some discomfort. Always ask about their preference before accommodating.
  5. Be aware of cultural differences. Through telehealth, non-verbal communication can play a prominent role. Make sure that the use of gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions are appropriate and respectful within your patient’s culture. It’s okay to ask!

How organizations can accommodate

Here are a few ways your organization can help your providers deliver culturally competent care and accommodate the needs of your patient populations:

  1. Be intentional about recruitment. Ideally, an organization’s staff should be at least as diverse and multicultural as your patient populations to help provide appropriate care. With a diverse team of providers, your practice will have a more comprehensive cultural knowledge base to pull from when it comes time to provide care.
  2. Collect REAL data. According to the AHA, organizations should collect race, ethnicity, and language preference (REAL) data. Collecting this data will help your organization identify and report disparities, increase diversity and minority workforce pipelines, and make cultural competency an institutional priority.
  3. Offer training and resources. Make sure you give your providers ample time and resources around culturally competent care. Remember to encourage your providers to take some time to develop skills and knowledge to effectively navigate an industry that works with people of many backgrounds.
  4. Assess and address. Your organization and providers will not become perfect at providing culturally competent care overnight. It’ll be vital to identify and address areas of underperformance on an ongoing basis through your organization’s REAL data and feedback from your patients and providers.

Resources for providers and looking towards the future

As a provider, learning about cultural competency can feel overwhelming, and knowing where to start might feel confusing. By taking steps to improve your cultural competency, you will be better equipped to serve the needs of a variety of patients from different backgrounds.
Here are a few resources and ways that can help you practice and advocate for cultural competence in the workplace:

  1. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Resources on Cultural Competence: SAMHSA has resources and online training for providing cultural competency for both organization leaders and providers.
  2. The Health Research and Educational Trust and the American Hospital Association (AHA): This guidebook has resources for healthcare organizations and leadership. It outlines multiple benefits of culturally competent care, next steps for hospitals and care systems, and how to provide effective staff education.
  3. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ): The AHRQ has their Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit on improving linguistic competency when delivering health care. The toolkit gives information about how to learn from patients, from other staff, and other sources like websites and courses. It also gives guidance on how to track your progress among your providers.
  4. Think Cultural Health: This website has resources, CME, and information for providers about culturally and linguistically appropriate care services. The website is sponsored by The Office of Minority Health (OMH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Where Iris Telehealth can help

At Iris Telehealth, we work with other healthcare organizations around the nation to bring high-quality, specialized psychiatry services to people who need them the most. Contact us today to see if our telepsychiatry services can help your providers and organization provide culturally competent care for your patients.

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