Cultural Awareness and Health Literacy

Improving clinical outcomes through better understanding.

Medical Cultural Awareness

Medical Cultural Awareness is a set of attitudes, skills, behaviors, and policies that enable organizations and 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 clients 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 a real impact on clinical outcomes. Ignoring culture can lead to negative health consequences in many ways:
  1. Patients may choose not to seek needed services for fear of being misunderstood or disrespected.
  2. Patients may not adhere to medical advice because they do not understand or do not trust the provider.
  3. Health care professionals may not order appropriate tests or medical interventions due to cross-cultural misunderstandings.

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 most adults. Limited health literacy occurs when people can't find and use the health information and services they need. Nearly nine out of 10 adults have difficulty using the everyday health information that is routinely available in our 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.

We can do better in designing and presenting health information and services that people can use effectively. We can help others build health literacy skills, such as community members, health professionals, and anyone else who communicates about health, as well as build our own skills. Every organization involved in health information and services needs its own health literacy plan to improve its organizational practices.

HCMS Tools

  • Medical Cultural Awareness Tip Sheet - A one-page report that addresses the cultural-specific health issues for African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Asian American groups.
  • Communicating with Patients - Provides information on working with interpreters-translators and patients with limited-English proficiency (LEP).

Payer Resources

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

Additional Resources

  • Cultural Clues - Tip sheet to increase awareness within diverse cultures.
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - Provides standardized instructions for pills in the following languages: Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • Think Cultural Health - Is a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the flagship initiative of the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competence in Health Care. The goal is to advance health equity at every point of contact through the development and promotion of culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
  • Physician's Practical Guide to Cultural Competence - Receive nine free CME credits to MDs, PAs or nine contact hours to NPs, while exploring engaging cases and learning about cultural competency in healthcare.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) - The primary agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
  • Spanish Language Medication Tracking Tool - A brochure developed by the AHRQ to help Spanish-speaking patients learn more about how to take medicines safely. The brochure includes a detachable, wallet-size card that patients can personalize to keep track of their medicines, including vitamins and herbal and other dietary supplements.