The growing need for a culturally competent healthcare workforce cannot be denied in any society. The diverse ethnic and racial minorities living in foreign countries are often burdened with disabilities and diseases. The prevalence of substandard health care facilities for people from different backgrounds is growing in developed countries i.e. United Kingdom and United States. Conflicts due to culture, race, ethnicity and language are among the prime hurdles which hinder quality health care (Smedley & Smith, 2002, pp. 16).
The Role of Culture in Healthcare
Both culture and ethnicity of a person often lead to a unique pattern of perceptions and beliefs as to what the term health or illness implies. Hence, such patterns of beliefs heavily influence the manner in which the symptoms are recognized and the way they are interpreted and treated. Cultural and ethnic differences in the identification and interpretation of symptoms are a vital issue in contemporary health care (Woolshin & Bickell, 1995, pp. 273). Communication between the patients or the consumers of the services provided by the staff and the providers of the services is an essential element in regard of all aspects of health care. Barriers like racial and ethnic minorities; mistrust and fear of treatment, racism and discrimination, and differences in language and communication create gaps between the users and the providers. However if the communication gap is removed between the two groups it would be beneficial for the whole of the unit of health care. The communication may affect thoughts, moods, and the highest integrative aspects of behavior. A major way to improve access to mental health services is to coordinate care to vulnerable, high need groups so that they would not experience any disparities prevalence of illness, access to services, and quality of services if they are in underserved or vulnerable populations.
More than fifty years ago; a research was conducted to study the effects of culture on pain. Historically, pain has been considered as a biological phenomenon. The researchers affirmed that sensitivity to pain and importance of pain symptoms differ drastically by ethnicity and culture. In another study, the ethnic differences in the population seeking health care were studied (Schmidely, 2001, pp. 23). Major delays in acquiring healthcare were found to be common in people hailing from different cultures as compared to the people belonging to the culture of the land. The reason behind this could be the problem of language or the communication gap between the persons belonging to different cultural groups. The delay caused could be because the person belonging to a different culture is not able to present or communicate his/her problem to the person of another culture. May be he/she is unable to understand the problem of the victim because of the problem of language or the victim is not able to express his problem properly.
Cultural Competence in Health Care
Linguistic and cultural competence refers to a pre-determined set of behaviors, policies and attitudes which work in synergy to provide high quality health care services in cross-cultural situations. Culture implies integrated patterns of human behavior i.e. thoughts, actions, values, beliefs and customs of people hailing from different ethnic, racial, social and religious groups. Competence refers to having the capacity to provide effective medical services in the context of health care (Smith, 2000, pp. 145). Cultural competence may have a positive impact on healthy communication. There are a number of factors that influence health communication —including behaviors, language, customs, beliefs, and perspectives—cultural competence is also critical for achieving accuracy in medical research. In medical research if planning is poor and the plans do not support the principles of cultural competence, it is possible that it may yield inaccurate results.