Article Date: 10/1/2011

Providing Culturally Competent Care
staffing solutions

Providing Culturally Competent Care

Increasing your cross-cultural appeal can pay huge dividends.

Bob Levoy, O.D.

Diversity and cultural competence are usually associated with the East and West coasts, where densely packed metropolitan regions embrace an array of races, religions and ethnicities. More and more, however, the nation's interior is experiencing the challenges of an increasingly multicultural society, and optometrists in every city between New York and Los Angeles will have to adapt.

What does it mean to be culturally competent? Bob Redlo, director of national workforce planning and development for Kaiser Permanente, says there no precise definition, but it involves understanding the culture of the people you're serving and their beliefs. It also requires understanding their language and being able to communicate in their language yourself or with the help of an interpreter.

Addressing diversity

“A quick look at the profile of my community in Clayton County, Georgia, made it apparent that our practice needed to shift to accommodate a more diverse patient base,” says Kirk L. Smick, O.D., F.A.A.O. Since many of the older, recently arrived patients don't speak English, “we decided to make a second language an additional requirement for open positions whenever we felt it necessary. Rather than pay for the services of exam room interpreters as we'd been doing, we now have staff members who can speak Spanish, German, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian, among other languages.

“Translation is provided not only in the exam room, but also at the check-in/check-out desk in the reception area, at the insurance desk and in the dispensary,” Smick says.

“The word gets out in minority and immigrant communities that your practice can accommodate their population's needs, so friends and family are soon in your exam chair as well.”

Training is crucial

Training is the key to making a practice multicultural. “We ask employees from the appropriate backgrounds to teach one another what we need to be aware of culturally,” says Joseph Healy, chief operating officer for Beth Abraham's Comprehensive Care Program, a major provider of long-term health care services in the New York City area. “There are many things to consider when working with people from different backgrounds,” Healy says, “such as whether you shake hands or nod your head as a greeting; what questions you can ask infront of other family members; how much eye contact to make; how close to stand; the fact that some languages are louder than others, and so on.”

Marketing tools

Transitions Optical offers a wide range of educational resources to help eyecare professionals better serve culturally diverse patients. Included is a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation on the topic, Creating a Comfortable Eye Care Experience for a Diverse Patient Base, that includes strategies eyecare professionals can use during each stage of the eyecare experience—pre-visit outreach, reception, eye exam, dispensary and follow-up—to enhance patient communication and comfort, and demonstrate their commitment to culturally appropriate vision care. (See trade.transitions.com/MarketingTools/Pages/Multicultural.aspx.)

Cultural competence journey

“Cultural competence is a journey,” says Derrick L. Artis, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., vice president, Vision Source in Kingwood, Tenn. “If we're open to learning about other cultures, understanding our own biases and modifying our office environments and communication patterns to facilitate effective care, we'll improve patient outcomes and build strong practices.” OM


DR. LEVOY IS A FORMER CORPORATE EXECUTIVE, SEMINAR SPEAKER AND AUTHOR OF SEVEN BOOKS, INCLUDING “201 SECRETS OF A HIGH PERFORMANCE OPTOMETRIC PRACTICE” AND “222 SECRETS OF HIRING, MANAGING AND RETAINING GREAT EMPLOYEES IN HEALTHCARE PRACTICES.”

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2011