Emergency Medical Practice: Advancing Cultural Competence and Reducing Health Care Disparities

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In an increasingly diverse patient population, language differences, socioeconomic circumstances, religious values, and cultural practices may present barriers to the delivery of quality care. These obstacles contribute to the health care disparities observed in all areas of medical care. Increasing cultural competence has been cited as part of the solution to reduce disparities. The emergency department (ED) is an environment where cultural sensitivity is particularly needed, as it is often a primary source of health care for the underserved and ethnic and racial minorities and a place where high patient volume and acuity place the provider under demanding time pressures, yet the emergency medicine (EM) literature on health care disparities and cultural competence is limited.

The authors present three clinical scenarios highlighting challenges in providing equitable emergency care to minority populations. Using these cases as illustrations, three processes are proposed that may improve the quality of care delivered to minority populations: 1) increase cultural awareness and reduce provider biases, enabling providers to interact more effectively with different patient populations; 2) accommodate patient preferences and needs in medical settings through practice adjustments and cultural modifications; and 3) increase provider diversity to raise levels of tolerance, awareness, and understanding for other cultures and create more racially and/or ethnically concordant patient–physician relationships.

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