Unmesh Srivastava, Chief Digital and Technology Officer, Clever Care Health Plan

The U.S. Census Bureau released its latest statistics in 2020, revealing a notable increase in the diversity of the country's population. In 2010, the probability that her two ethnically or racially different individuals would be randomly selected was 54.9%. By 2020, this percentage rose to her 61.1%. Given these numbers, it's surprising that healthcare providers are actively seeking solutions, especially leveraging existing and emerging technologies, to overcome the most important cultural challenges in patient care. That's not the point.

Has there always been a cultural challenge in medicine? Absolutely. However, as the country becomes more diverse, healthcare providers face increasing obstacles. Some are more obvious than others, such as those related to communication and language barriers. For example, even patients with a basic understanding of English have difficulty accurately describing their symptoms, asking complex medical questions, expressing concerns, and fully understanding their health care provider's responses. It may be difficult.

Additionally, different healthcare practices across cultures, communities, and religions have a significant impact on how healthcare providers interact with patients from different backgrounds and countries. For example, some patients prefer Eastern medicine or alternative medicine. Some people have special expectations regarding modesty and privacy during exams and when discussing personal information. A lack of cultural awareness among healthcare providers can lead to unintended failures and leave patients and their families feeling discriminated against or ignored.

Another cultural challenge in healthcare is a general mistrust of patients from certain cultures and backgrounds. This mistrust may be due to low health literacy, but is often due to past negative or questionable experiences with health care professionals. A recent Deloitte survey of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans found that 55% said a negative experience had caused them to lose trust in their health care provider, and 36% said their health care provider treated them differently. They said they skipped or avoided treatment because they didn't like it. A provider was treating them.

Given that people of certain races and backgrounds have historically faced mistreatment in the medical community, it is important to understand and work to overcome different cultural barriers. This approach is necessary to provide quality care for all. Despite the significant challenges posed by barriers to cultural competency in health care, they can be overcome. As mentioned above, a variety of digital and technological advances are equipping healthcare providers with the tools to effectively address the various challenges of treating diverse patient populations.

How to provide culturally competent care: Health equity and technology

By learning about and proactively adopting technology solutions, healthcare providers can quickly, confidently, and efficiently bridge the cultural gaps they face with patients and their families. For example, translation software products, apps, and tools are becoming increasingly popular in medical settings. According to Global Market Insights, the market size of machine translation is valued at 982.2 million in 2022 and is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate of 22.8% from 2023 to 2032. In 2022, the healthcare sector accounted for 20% of its market share. This shows that the need for translation services in the medical field is increasing.

Telemedicine is another technology that is becoming increasingly popular, especially among healthcare providers looking to improve cultural competency. This approach includes offering virtual bookings with the ability to add translation tools if needed. Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to serve patients who are unable to visit a hospital, clinic, or office for a variety of reasons. Telemedicine isn't suitable for every situation or treatment, but it can help build trust with hesitant patients. This is especially beneficial for people with low incomes and those living in rural areas.

Additionally, technology is being used to foster “softer” skills among health care providers, such as the ability to practice more comprehensive care. His 2016 academic survey of hundreds of U.S.-based providers found that nearly two-thirds received cultural competency training. Access to such training is now easier than ever, with tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams enabling workshops and remote meetings.

But innovation today is not the limit. In the near future, other disruptive technologies are poised to emerge and facilitate even more culturally competent care than is currently available.

Future healthcare technologies drive more comprehensive care

What other emerging technologies are transforming healthcare? One example is virtual reality. Specifically, VR devices such as wearable headsets are being tested in a variety of medical applications, including the treatment of chronic and acute pain. Studies have shown that using VR goggles can reduce the intensity of pain in patients, potentially reducing or eliminating the need for medication. As some cultures are hesitant to use traditional medicines, VR technology may be a viable alternative for patients experiencing physical pain.

The second technology gaining traction is wearable devices. Wearable devices worn by patients transmit accurate health data to healthcare providers in real time. Research on wearable medical devices shows that these devices can help healthcare providers provide more personalized care. Additionally, it offers cultural benefits by giving patients more control over their health and privacy. If patients have access to the necessary wearables, these devices can support preventive health plans while minimizing in-person visits to health care providers.

Technological solutions: Improving healthcare for all

Everyone has the right to health care, regardless of their background. However, treatment has often been provided through a monocultural, one-size-fits-all approach.

Technology is now demonstrating how healthcare can be personalized and customized. Technological innovations have the potential to benefit all patients, especially those who feel overlooked or underserved by traditional medical approaches.

About Unmesh Srivastava

Unmesh Srivastava is Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Clever Care Health Plan. He has over 14 years of experience in healthcare technology and innovation, digital health, and value-based care technology.

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