Cultural competence is taking center stage in the discussion about healthcare quality in the United States. Despite its reputation as a cultural melting pot, the US has also been a deeply divided country, with many communities of people receiving inadequate or even nonexistent resources. As awareness of this grows, so too does recognition of the need to improve facilities and care for underserved populations in the modern day. And while efforts are being made to encourage public spending on basic infrastructure, healthcare professionals also play a large part in holding their own practice accountable. By becoming aware of the inequalities and unconscious biases that occur within healthcare, they can fight against them and improve health outcomes for all.

To address health inequities and provide quality healthcare, pharmacists must explore and understand how prejudice, unconscious bias, and cultural misunderstandings impact care. By embracing an attitude of curiosity, they can learn better ways to serve individuals from backgrounds very different from their own. Moreover, understanding an individual’s values, beliefs, and backgrounds allows pharmacists to prevent medication errors and follow a treatment plan that respects and embraces cultural traditions.

While disparities are often interpreted to mean ethnic or racial differences, there are many dimensions of disparity in the nation regarding health. Socioeconomic status, disability, age, and sexual identity also contribute to an individual’s ability to achieve appropriate healthcare. Culturally competent pharmaceutical care can result in more successful patient education, increased patient health-seeking behaviors, and greater adherence to medical advice.

Conduct a Comprehensive Patient Assessment

Effective cross-cultural communication is critical to providing culturally appropriate care for marginalized populations. However, it is not realistic to expect anyone to develop an intimate knowledge of the cultural nuances and values of every person they meet. Instead, pharmacists can use a generic approach by conducting a cultural assessment, which is essentially the practice of keeping an open, curious, and respectful mind. 

Although there is no standard formula for conducting a cultural assessment, the first step is to learn about the meaning of the patient’s illness to them. Some questions you can ask include the following:

  • What do you think has caused your problem?
  • What troubles most about your disease?
  • What are the most important results you want to get from this treatment?
  • What kind of medication do you think you should receive?
  • How do you feel about ‘XYZ’ treatment? 

Centering the patient and their experience by asking tactful questions like these allows you to acquire valuable information to provide appropriate care. While it might be tempting to impose your own suppositions about the patient and their illness on them and to insist upon a course of treatment you are familiar with, it is important to always check in with your patient. Treatments are unlikely to be effective if your patients are only partially on board with the treatment plan or do not understand the treatment process. 

You must also identify how embedded the individual is in their traditional culture. The extent of the patient’s cultural embeddedness may determine if you need to reassess their medication options. With the correct information, pharmacists can gain insights into the patient’s drug regimen and schedule compliance to determine if issues such as drug pricing or compatibility arise.

Identify Medically Underserved Patients and Tailor Services to Them

Nowhere are the divisions of culture, ethnicity, and race more sharply drawn than in the health of people in the US. According to the recent census, the US population comprises 59.3% White, 18.3% Hispanic, and 13.6% African-American. Under these significant classifications are sub-groups with unique beliefs regarding therapy and medical treatment.

One way pharmacists can serve these special populations is to determine the underserved patients within these groups and tailor their services. Personalizing medical services based on their cultural beliefs empower pharmacists to reach out to ethnic minorities effectively, optimize vaccination rates, and improve general health. It is not uncommon for individuals within these ethnic minorities to be deterred from getting help due to cultural stigma surrounding health issues within their culture. 

Sometimes it can be as simple as providing information in languages other than English or making it clear that alternate language options are available. Other ways of tailoring services include considering how your building is adapted to meet the needs of people with mobility issues or sensory disabilities. It could mean ensuring that medications for commonly stigmatized aspects of health, such as contraception and sexual health medications, are displayed in an area of relative privacy or ensuring that there is a private place for consultations and so on. 

In your personal practice as a pharmacist, it means maintaining an approachable, neutral, and non-judgmental manner. When you are talking with patients, care must be taken to ensure that they can hear and comprehend you clearly and that they feel comfortable asking questions, requesting more information, and discussing the treatment with you. 

Pursue Advanced Education to Improve Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is an ongoing learning process. For pharmacists to better serve their communities, they must be taught how to provide services in a culturally competent manner. When pharmacists cannot recognize the differences between their patients, they may inadvertently provide low-quality care. This makes taking a pharmd degree online at a leading academic institution such as The University of Findlay necessary to identify different cultural beliefs and build awareness of multiple cultures.

While working toward your pharmacy degree, you will learn about health obstacles that can lead to disparities and strange behaviors, practices, and attitudes. This prepares you to ask the right questions and consider the patient’s primary concerns so you do not appear judgmental when communicating with them. Moreover, you will also be exposed to different ways of breaking down barriers that can get in the way of unique population patients receiving the care they need.

This includes learning different culturally competent responses so you can explain your perspective and find ways to align your care with their cultural difference. When patients encounter pharmacists who know their culture, they are more likely to feel welcome and receptive to the suggested treatment. It is not uncommon for pharmacists to work with doctors and nurses in developing care plans to achieve treatment goals through optimal medication therapy.

Creating a treatment plan requires constant iteration, especially when dealing with special populations. Depending on the patient’s ethnic and social beliefs, the healthcare team must find medications ideal for their socioeconomic background without undermining healthcare outcomes. As part of their training, pharmacists are taught to recognize cultural differences and dispense medication appropriate for the patient’s condition and culture. This enables the healthcare team to deliver top-notch patient care and reduce operational inefficiencies and workflow redundancies.

Breaking the Cultural Divide in Healthcare

Cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds affect patient treatment in several ways. Improving your cultural competence is essential in understanding others’ viewpoints, respecting their cultural backgrounds, and promoting multicultural and holistic healing in healthcare.