You are in a foreign country and your child is feeling sick. You rush her to the
hospital and want to quickly speak to a doctor. Instead, you are given a long form
asking many questions in a complete different language. You ask for help, but no
one seems to comprehend your heavy accent.
This is the reality that my family and I encountered when visiting medical facilities
for many years. As a child who had recently arrived to America, I attempted to act
as a translator between the doctor and my mother with the few vocabulary words that
I had learned so far in school. I remember my mother’s face emanating discomfort
with her inability to fully express her feelings and concerns.
I now understand that the helpless look on my mother’s face was a true reflection
of the challenges consistently encountered by many minority populations.
Some of the most significant barriers between healthcare providers and patients
are language and cultural differences, which can play a crucial role in patient
health outcome. If patients have a hard time communicating with their healthcare
provider, this can lead to errors in diagnosis or treatment. With the ample range
of cultures in the United States, patients’ cultural beliefs are of equal importance.
If a patient’s belief interferes with their treatment option, the clinician should
respectfully accommodate the patient while ensuring that they have a successful
In 2050, it is estimated that the minority population will account for almost half
of the U.S population [PDF | 283KB], underscoring the necessity of culturally and linguistically
appropriate approaches. To inform these approaches, the U.S Department of Health
and Human Services has recently released the Enhanced National Standards for Culturally
and Linguistically Appropriate Services in health and health care, also known as
CLAS Standards. This blueprint guides implementation to advance and sustain
culturally and linguistically appropriate health services. It also highlights the
importance of providing quality and equal health services to minorities.
Currently, CLAS Standards are being utilized to improve operational functions within
the workplace by equipping
culturally and linguistically competent staff to serve
the needs of the populations that they serve. CLAS Standards improve quality of
care and patient safety while decreasing the liability risk for health care providers.
They will ultimately prepare health and healthcare organizations to meet the needs
of minorities while improving health care quality.
Therefore, I encourage health and health care organizations to adopt and implement
CLAS Standards. Working as a team, we can narrow the cultural and language gaps
within the health care system and eliminate a major barrier to achieving health
equity in the nation.
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Pamela Ascon is a senior at the University of Southern California, currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Promotion Disease Prevention. This Summer, Pamela has worked as an Intern on the Southeastern Health Equity Council through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities program as a part of the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities.