Cultural Awareness and Health Literacy

Improving clinical outcomes through better understanding.

The ability to clearly and effectively communicate with patients can dramatically improve clinical outcomes. Below are tools and resources to assist physicians and their staff with challenges they may face. 

Medical Cultural Awareness

Medical Cultural Awareness is a set of attitudes, skills, behaviors, and policies that enable organizations, physicians, and their staff to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. It reflects the ability to acquire and use knowledge of the health-related beliefs, attitudes, practices, and communication patterns of patients and their families to improve services, strengthen programs, increase community participation, and close the gaps in health status among diverse population groups.

Medical Cultural Awareness focuses its attention on population-specific issues which include health-related beliefs and cultural values (socioeconomic perspective), disease prevalence (epidemiological perspective), and treatment efficacy (outcome perspective).

Cultural competence can have an impact on clinical outcomes and an increase in:
- Patient satisfaction
- Treatment adherence
- Appropriate information seeking and sharing

However, ignoring culture can lead to negative health consequences in many ways:
- Patients may choose not to seek needed services for fear of being misunderstood or disrespected.
- Patients may not adhere to medical advice because they do not understand or do not trust the health care professional.
- Health care professionals may not order appropriate tests or medical interventions due to cross-cultural misunderstandings.

Cultural awareness skills can help a practice run more productively and efficiently. It is important for management to take an active role in the daily building of an accepting and culturally competent workplace. Training staff members to understand cultural awareness provides opportunities for growth in the practice and ensures each patient is treated appropriately.

Health Literacy

Obtaining, communicating, processing, and understanding health information and services are essential steps in making appropriate health decisions. However, research indicates that today's health information is presented in ways that are not usable by many adults.

Limited health literacy occurs when people cannot find and use the health information and services they need. Many adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in healthcare facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities. Without clear information and an understanding of its importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, find themselves in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure.

HCMS and TMA Tools

Additional Tools

Payer Resources

Below are resources through payer websites, which will help in caring for Houston's culturally diverse population.

Aetna - Health Equity 
Blue Cross Blue Shield - Culturally Competent Medical Communications
Cigna - Cultural Competency and Health Equity Resources
Molina HealthCare - Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Resources/Disability Resources
UnitedHealthcare - Cultural Competency

Educational Resources

  • HRSA-Culture, Language, and Health Literacy - The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA's mission is to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity through access to quality services, a skilled health workforce, and innovative, high-value programs. 
  • HHS-Office of Minority Health - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health is dedicated to improving the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will help eliminate health disparities. Lists minority population profiles and provides other cultural health resources.
  • HHS-Think Cultural Health - From HHS, Think Cultural Health's mission is to provide information, continuing educational opportunities, resources, and more for health care professionals to learn about culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
  • HHS-A Physician's Practical Guide to Culturally Competent Care - From HHSC-Think Cultural Health, explore engaging cases and learn about cultural competency in healthcare.
  • Texas HHS-Culturally Effective Health Care - From the Texas Department of Health and Human Services-Texas Health Steps, a training module to equip health professionals to employ best practices and professional ethics to serve the healthcare needs of culturally diverse children, adolescents and their families. CE credit module expires on 03/24/2023.

Culturally Specific Resources