Among the many challenges that healthcare stakeholders face are language and cultural barriers, as well as finding ways to make a difference within the healthcare setting. The healthcare marketing agency HealthEd has issued a new report, Engaging Patients from Multicultural Backgrounds, to explore answers to these questions. The convergence of three factors, which are ongoing demographic change, persistent healthcare disparities, and sweeping healthcare transformation make it all the more necessary for healthcare organizations to provide better support within these patient populations.
HealthEd surveyed 192 healthcare extenders – non-M.D. healthcare professionals who work directly with and on behalf of patients. Healthcare extenders use a wide variety of strategies to reach patients from diverse cultural backgrounds, with the aim of helping patients feel comfortable in the healthcare setting. These strategies include hiring culturally diverse staff, training staff on cultural competence, offering flexible hours, and providing programs and services tailored to health problems that disproportionately affect minority groups.
The findings reveal that healthcare extenders are treating an increasingly diverse patient population whose members speak a wide variety of languages. Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported that communication and language barriers presented challenges.
“I think that the key to keep in mind with that is that the language and the bilingual aspect are reflective of the patient population being served,” Susan Collins, MS, CHES, RD senior VP, health education research and development at HealthEd, told Med Ad News. “It’s not just a matter of language and background that’s similar to the patients being served and also recognizing that cultural competence diversity comes not only from the language that people speak, but also from the beliefs that people have, and the values that they share, and their social norms.”
When Collins and her team asked about languages, English came in at 95 percent, followed by Spanish at 94 percent. “What that said to us when we looked at that result is that Spanish is equally as important it really emphasizes to us that marketers as well as others organizations that are creating programs for patients that they need to be thinking of Spanish at the beginning of the project just as they are in terms of English,” she said. “It definitely shouldn’t be an afterthought.”
Patients also said they needed educational materials in Chinese. Southeastern Asian languages and Creole.
Respondents are also concerned about gaps in how well patients and providers can understand each other. Almost half of respondents say that they often or sometimes experience situations in which language differences prevent effective communication between them and their patients or caregivers. Also, 44% of respondents are often or sometimes uncertain how to best educate a patient or family member because of cultural differences.
The involvement of community members in outreach and education efforts could assist healthcare extenders overcome challenges to reaching culturally diverse audiences. These challenges include a lack of appropriate resources for marketing, outreach, and patient education, a lack of familiarity with cultural beliefs and lifestyles, and communication and language barriers.
“The reason that we brought up community health workers within the report is that one of the key that the extenders cited to being able to reach culturally diverse patients is that 36 percent of them said they had challenges related to helping patients feel comfortable within the healthcare setting,” Collins said. “They’re really lay people who come from the community and they’re being used to help service this bridge between patients within the community and the healthcare system. And there’s definitely been research done in diabetes, hypertension, and HIV where community lay workers are really effective in helping support follow up visits for patients.”