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Culture Matters to quality health care

Evidence shows that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of health care than non-minorities―even when factors related to access such as patient insurance and income are controlled. The Institute of Medicine's 2002 report Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care revealed that failing to support and foster culturally competent health care can increase costs for the individual and society through increased hospitalizations and medical complications.

Cultural competence is having the capacity to function effectively within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs of consumers and their communities. Several different definitions describe cultural competence. No single definition is universally accepted and many approaches are possible for providing culturally competent care. Fundamentally:

  • Culture refers to a variety of factors, including age, education level, income level, place of birth, length of residency in a country, individual experience, and identification with community groups.
  • Competence refers to knowledge that enables a person to effectively communicate.
  • Care refers to the ability to provide effective clinical care.

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Minnesota's Increasing Diversity

Health care providers across Minnesota are providing care to an increasingly diverse patient population that may not speak English, may not be familiar with Western medical customs, and may be distrustful of the American way of delivering health care. In addition, the changing demographics of the state necessitate a mindful approach to providing effective clinical care.

Did you know?

  • Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the United States.
  • Minnesota’s Hmong population is second only to California, and St. Paul is home to the largest urban population of Hmong in the world.
  • The numbers of African American, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino Minnesotans are expected to more than double over the next 30 years while the number of white Minnesotans is projected to fall.
  • The continued aging of the baby boom population will produce a significant increase in the number of people ages 55-69. By 2035, 22 percent of the population will be age 65 or older.
  • American Indian women are seven times more likely to receive inadequate care or no care during their pregnancy than white women.
  • Death rates for African Americans are more than one and a half times higher than whites in most age groups.

The U.S. Office of Minority Health’s Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards represent the principles and activities of culturally and linguistically appropriate services that should be embodied by providers who care for diverse populations and should be integrated into health care organizations. The 14 CLAS Standards have three overarching themes:

  • Culturally Competent Care. Standards 1-3 cover basic care delivery, staff diversity, and ongoing education. Find information on these standards as well as information and resources about Minnesota’s predominant cultures and effective patient-provider communication practices under the tab Culturally Competent Care >
  • Language Access Services. Standards 4-7 outline the need to provide interpreter services and translated materials. Find information and resources related to language access services, interpretation (spoken language), and translation (interpreted documents) under the tab Patient-Provider Communication >
  • Organizational Supports. Standards 8-14 highlight the need for assessment and planning. Find information and resources on these topics, as well as strategic initiatives that administrators and leadership teams can undertake to support their organization’s provision of appropriate cultural and linguistic services under the tab Improving Service Delivery >

New to cultural competence?

Visit Take Action on this page for resources that will help you gain a solid understanding about the importance of cultural competence.

Culture Care Connection was developed by Stratis Health and made possible through the generous support of UCare.