Training and knowledge about appropriate communication with individuals from different backgrounds improves adherence and outcomes.
Healthcare professionals, including pharmacy, often interact with patients in precarious situations and need to broach uncomfortable topics. As such, all pharmacy staff should be trained and knowledgeable in proper communication with individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds. Cultural competence can be referred to in the context of health care as the ability to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services.1 Cultural competence should not only be demonstrated by employees, but should be embedded in workplace culture and policies. To best serve patients, pharmacy staff should be aware of the impact cultural beliefs can have on patients’ actions, attitudes, and health perceptions. This creates empathy for those who behave unexpectedly regarding self-care or who do not respond to recommendations. Pharmacy workers also need to learn to appreciate different worldviews and effectively reach patients in addressing optimal health behaviors, such as drug adherence.
This does not require pharmacy staff to memorize every facet of the culture related to every demographic component of patients. Rather, it requires staff to have a general knowledge of the patient population being served and their choices regarding behavior, food, household decision making, manner of addressing or communicating, and the use of non-traditional therapies relevant to the providing optimal care. Delivering optimal care in this case also helps improve patient reporting and even ensures customer loyalty.
Because there are many cultures in the United States, cultural competency training focuses on appreciation for differences, benevolence, compassion, empathy, and mutual respect. Effective communication is essential when assessing and interpreting patient information. If not performed effectively, miscommunication can lead to poorer patient outcomes.
A 2020 systematic review of 12 articles from 7 countries examined the salience of different domains in the delivery of culturally competent care, including leadership and management styles that influence organizational culture.1 The analysis found that individual practitioners need to commit to cultural competence, but it starts at the top with leadership and management.
“If an organization uses a well-designed and implemented competency model, it can achieve the best results and improve performance and ultimately business outcomes,” according to the results of a study published in BMC Public Health.2
Pharmacy workers have to adapt and collaborate with patients. This connection can begin simply by knowing what a culture deems appropriate in the medical environment and learning a few key phrases in a patient’s language. A specific example of how being more culturally competent can lead to positive outcomes can be seen in a study documenting how the mammography screening attendance rate increased among ethnic minority women who received a culturally tailored educational intervention.3
Connecting with patients on a personal level leads to more honest and open conversations, better adherence to treatment and better overall health outcomes. All employees, especially those on the front lines of customer interaction, should be trained to manage interactions accordingly. As the pharmacist profession grows rapidly in relevance and size, the standard of care must continually improve to manage the growing diverse cultures seeking competent care. Cultural competence serves pharmacists well when interacting with others in healthcare, but can also be used to become a life skill when interacting with people outside of the workplace.
There are many materials, programs, and training mechanisms that are helpful in acquiring greater cultural competence, many of which are free. Technicians and other pharmacy professionals can up their game by using these resources.
About the Authors
Vivian Chic is a PharmD Candidate at Touro University California College of Pharmacy in Vallejo.
Shane P. Desselle, PhD, RPh, FAPhA, is a professor in the department of social, behavioral, and administrative sciences at Touro University California College of Pharmacy in Vallejo.
1, Cultural competence in health and human services. CDC. September 10, 2021. Accessed June 15, 2022. https://npin.cdc.gov/pages/cultural-competence
2. Fattahi H, Abolghasem Gorji H, Bayat M. Core competencies for health headquarters: a systematic review and metasynthesis. BMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):891. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-08884-2
3. Brevik TB, Laake P, Bjørkly S. Effect of culturally aligned education on mammography attendance and the Papanicolaou test. Health Service Res. 2020;55(3):457-468. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.13271