Checking Up on Healthcare Diversity

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , August 9, 2010

Giving anxious patients and their families the means to communicate with hospital staff  and to be updated on conditions, wait times, and course of treatment can only be a positive—especially with longer waiting times in crowded ERs.

Nobody expects that every hospital in the nation should have readily available translators for every language on the planet. But if your hospital's patient mix contains a significant minority population that you know has limited English abilities, it makes sense to either hire translators or medical professionals who can communicate with that population.

Is your hospital doing this or moving in this direction? Or, have the slow economy and the scarcity of healthcare professionals deprioritized diversity? Finding qualified staff of any race, creed, ethnicity, or culture—regardless of the patient mix—is already tough enough for many healthcare providers, and that's assuming they have the budget to add staff in the first place.

There are some indications that—whatever the reason—healthcare providers are not prioritizing diversity. For example, a recent report from the American Hospital Association's Institute for Diversity in Health Management found that only 37% of organizations earmarked specific funds for diversity and cultural competency—on average, about $424,000 annually per organization. Most of that money went towards recruiting minority staff.

I suspect that most hospitals would like to diversify staff but are probably limited by the economy and the market. At some point in the next few years, however, as the nation's healthcare system stumbles towards outcomes-based medicine, healthcare diversity will be reprioritized.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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