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Health Literacy and the Enhanced National CLAS Standards

Health Literacy and the Enhanced National CLAS Standards

Health Literacy and the Enhanced National CLAS Standards

The enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (the National CLAS Standards) were developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. The goal of the enhanced CLAS Standards is to advance health equity and improve health care quality by establishing guidelines for the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate health care services to increasingly diverse populations.

Health literacy is an integral part of the CLAS Standards. However, when organizations implement the Standards, the main focus is often on cultural needs and the application of language is primarily related to interpretation and translation services. Unfortunately, health literacy integration tends to fall by the wayside.

Opportunities exist for organizations to implement cultural competency and health literacy together. This integrated approach will lead to the provision of equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services for everyone!

Health literacy strengthens CLAS adherence

Every patient has a story to share and it is important to take time to listen and hear the patient’s narrative. Start your conversation where the patient would like to begin and build your relationship.

Let’s take an example of a patient newly diagnosed with diabetes. This patient’s preferred language is not English and he has a misconception about insulin causing other health issues. If this patient’s clinician chooses to only provide a handout and instructions on diabetes treatment, even if it’s in the patient’s preferred language, it does not ensure that the patient will adhere. There are ways to encourage compliance and they begin with knowing what else is going on in the patient’s life. It is helpful to ask questions such as: “What concerns you most about your diabetes?”; “What is your biggest fear?”; or “What have you heard about diabetes?”.

Health care providers should ensure a comprehensive approach that includes asking the patient about current experiences, capturing what else in going on in the patient’s life and taking into account the context of the situation. When health care professionals are aware of culture’s influence on health beliefs and practices, they can use this awareness to enhance effective communication, improve access to care and ultimately, to patient outcomes.

Increasing mandates for culturally and linguistically appropriate services

Culturally and linguistically appropriate services are increasingly being included in or referenced by local and national legislative, regulatory, and accreditation mandates. Both The Joint Commission and the National Committee for Quality Assurance have established accreditation standards that target the improvement of communication, cultural competency, person-centered care, and the provision of language assistance services.

Even without a regulatory mandate, looking holistically at improving health literacy can help health care organizations gain a competitive edge in the market place, decrease liability risks and provide equitable, safe, quality health care and services.

Learn More

Health Literacy Partners is available for consultations, strategic planning, education or on-site workshops to help your team integrate health literacy and the CLAS Standards throughout your organization.

Please email me at or call 516-528-6485, to see how we can help you meet and sustain the CLAS Standards across your organization.

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