The nation's rapidly changing demographics are posing a challenge to healthcare providers. Clinicians, administrators, billing staff—anyone who deals with patients and their families—will have to be trained and competent with a variety of cultures, races, and ethnicities.
On Jan. 1, 2011, The Joint Commission will clarify, refocus, and in some instances strengthen hospital guidelines in the area that it has renamed "patient-centered communication standards."
Amy Wilson-Stronks, project director for health disparities work in The Joint Commission's Division of Quality Measurement and Research, says the refocused standards are a response to an increasingly diverse population and the growing understanding of the importance of effective communication in the age of patient-centered care.
"Patients bring to the healthcare encounters certain expectations and understandings of their health, their condition, their reasons for coming and presenting in the first place. Those perspectives vary from individual to individual," Wilson-Stronks says. "To develop the trust in the relationship, which is part of effective communication and part of patient engagement, you have to be sensitive to the fact that patients bring different perspectives. It doesn't mean you have to know about every single culture and what they believe and do and practice. But there are some basic principles, simple questions that one can ask, to elicit that information from patients."
U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2008 show more than 37 million people living in the United States who weren't born here, with 20.1 million coming from Latin America, 10.1 million from Asia, and 4.9 million from Europe.
That same year, the Census Bureau reported, 55 million people in this country spoke a language other than English in their homes. Of those, 25.2 million said they spoke English less than very well.
At some point in 2011, the Census Bureau estimates, the number of nonwhite minority births in the United States is expected to surpass that of majority whites of European ancestry.
Joseph R. Swedish, president and CEO of Trinity Health, a 47-hospital nonprofit system based in Novi, MI, says "open-minded and reflective" hospital leaders have already grasped the changing demographic and "will jump over this as an opportunity to best manage change."