Engaging patients from multicultural backgrounds

engaging patientsIt is estimated that by 2050, racial and minority groups may account for almost half the US population.   Race, ethnicity, and ability to speak English too often determine the quality of care patients receive. And the costs of inadequate care are borne not only by medically underserved patients but by the healthcare system as a whole, in the form of higher taxes and insurance rates.

HealthEd Academy’s fall 2012 survey asked healthcare extenders about how they engage patients from multicultural backgrounds. This growing, influential group of healthcare professionals is on the forefront of patient care today.

Increasingly, language and cultural barriers pose significant barriers to effective communication between patients and their healthcare teams. This issue is especially important given this nation’s ongoing demographic change, healthcare inequities experienced by minority patients, and sweeping healthcare transformation that, among other changes, ushers 32 million currently uninsured patients into a healthcare system they may not understand.


In the survey, healthcare extenders report that they know how to provide culturally competent care but face barriers to doing so. This report examines the top 7 insights that emerge from the survey—insights that point organizations and individuals toward meaningful solutions.

Top Findings

 Language barriers and patient comprehension top healthcare extenders’
list of concerns. Language barriers are costly to healthcare extenders and the patients they serve. And despite earnest efforts to meet the needs of culturally diverse patient populations, healthcare extenders worry that patients do not truly understand the health information they are given.

Minority patients’ discomfort in the healthcare setting remains a primary barrier, but one with a variety of solutions. To help patients overcome this barrier, healthcare extenders report hiring diverse staff, training staff on cultural competence, and providing programs and services tailored to minority groups, among other strategies.

 Healthcare extenders know how to provide culturally competent care but can’t always take the proactive steps they would like. Challenges include a lack of appropriate educational resources to use with culturally diverse patient populations, the low health literacy of some patients,and communication and language barriers. Healthcare extenders report that fostering treatment adherence in their patients is a particular challenge.

The wide array of languages spoken in this country reveals a need for educational resources in many languages. The array of languages is wider than some may expect, and the need for educational materials in more languages is pressing. Almost half of respondents indicate that they do not have access to patient education materials in the languages they need.

Respondents continue to rely on high touch, not high-tech. Healthcare extenders report that they provide patient education primarily in person or in print—a result, they say, of patient preference. Nearly 3 in 10 healthcare extenders report that they do not see the benefits of using technology or social media to engage a culturally diverse patient population. Yet according to research, some minority groups have high rates of technology use.

Patient education is delivered in many community locations but is rarely delivered at pharmacies. With the growing emphasis on pharmacy-based medication therapy management, a provision of the ACA, healthcare extenders may want to consider providing patient education at pharmacies.

One thought on “Engaging patients from multicultural backgrounds

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