As a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy, I recently attended a workshop where we discussed the importance of integrating health literacy, cultural competency and language access services. Traditionally, cultural competency, language services and health literacy strategies have been implemented in separate silos.
However, based on changing demographics, experts are urging healthcare systems to transform and facilitate integration. A more integrated approach to healthcare offers many benefits. If your organization has been discussing cultural competency, language services, and health literacy in separate conversations, here are three good reasons for you to take a more integrated approach:
1. An integrated approach will help you enhance health care quality and patient-centered care.
Factors such as education, ethnicity, gender identification, housing status, income, physical activity, access to nutrition, mental health and more all contribute to the knowledge and perspective of each unique patient. Training your team to respectfully ask questions about and consider cultural and linguistic factors will help them to deliver the individualized care your patients need. Integration of health literacy, cultural competence and language principles also supports quality improvement activities and standards, which positively impact patient safety and outcomes.
2. Patient populations have changed and are continually changing.
With changes in the cultural fabric of our country, come changes in our patient populations. The new norm in health care is to understand, embrace and accommodate diversity by offering services, programs, and safe, equitable care for everyone. Integrating health literacy, cultural competency and language principles is the most effective way to educate teams and to setup systems for accommodating culture changes over the long-term. These efforts will help healthcare systems to effectively respond to newly insured individuals, move to a value based payment system, and support program incentives.
3. An integrated training fosters a change of organizational culture and assists in sustainability of initiatives.
Providing training in an interdisciplinary and integrated approach reinforces the interconnectedness of health literacy, language and culture in health care. Combining cultural competency and language access services into health literacy training also allows health systems to offer more effective training at a lower cost to the organization.
Dennis Andrulis, senior research scientist at the Texas Health Institute and expert in the field of cultural competency reminds us that, “Health care is such a vital but such a small part of so many lives. To be good at what we do we must fit within the world where people live, work, play and pray. This by definition means recognizing, respecting and working to improve the lives of others, using health care in concert with all that makes up that world…”¹ Making an effort to appreciate the unique lives that each of us carry out will lead to better individual health and ultimately healthier communities.
It can be challenging to make changes to health systems and practices that have been in place for years. Take a look at the Institute of Medicine’s Report on Ten Attributes of a Health Literate Organization. If you would like to collaborate on developing an integrated approach to your health literacy training, Health Literacy Partners® would be happy to partner with your organization.