Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



Healthcare professionals are now more aware of the challenges they face when providing healthcare services to a culturally and racially diverse population. Cultural competency has emerged as a framework for understanding health disparities among racial and ethnic groups in particular, but also for women, the elderly, sexual orientation and gender identity, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. Although there are several definitions of cultural competency, each emphasizes the need for healthcare systems and providers to be aware of and responsive to patients’ cultural perspectives and backgrounds. One example defines cultural competency as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or amongst professionals and enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross‐cultural situations." Cultural competency in healthcare is the ability of systems to provide care to patients regardless of their values, beliefs, and behaviors; and includes adapting to meet patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs. The fundamental goal is a healthcare system and workforce that can deliver the highest quality of care to every patient, regardless of cultural background or English proficiency.

There is a need to deliver cultural competency in healthcare due to: the lack of diversity in healthcare leadership and employees; systems of care that are poorly designed for diverse patient populations; the lack of interpretation services or culturally and linguistically appropriate health education materials that lead to patient dissatisfaction, poor understanding of and adherence to treatments, and lower quality care; providers failing to understand socio-cultural differences between themselves and their patients, which in turn may lead to patient dissatisfaction, poor adherence to medication and health promotion strategies, and poorer health outcomes. Also, it is thought that failure to take socio‐cultural factors into account may resort to stereotyping which can alter healthcare providers’ behavior and clinical decision‐making. Lastly, a successful business model requires responsiveness to diverse patient populations as a means of attracting new patients and market shares.


Funded by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation .


© 2013 Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, Inc.



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