Maryland Releases Teaching Guide on Cultural Competency and Health Literacy to Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Disparities

BALTIMORE, MD (April 16, 2013) — The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and the University of Maryland School of Public Health and its Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy have released the Primer, a free resource guide for health professional educators to provide tools for teaching cultural competency.

“Cultural Competency and Health Literacy Primer: A Guide for Teaching Health Professionals and Students,” provides tools for educators responsible for training the current and future healthcare workforce. The guide provides teaching tools to improve cross-cultural communications skills, deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare services to diverse populations, and develop programs and policies to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities.

“Health care providers must be able to effectively communicate with their patients,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “The Primer provides valuable tools to help educators prepare their students for practicing in the community.”

Maryland laws enacted in 2008 and 2012 require higher education institutions that offer health profession degrees to report on how their programs are incorporating cultural competency and health literacy. The Primer is a helpful guide for institutions and educators both in Maryland and nationwide to develop courses on cultural competency and health literacy.  In addition to Maryland, five states have passed legislation requiring multicultural health care curricula and continuing education for health professionals.

“The Primer was initially conceptualized by our Office as a means to assist Maryland’s higher education institutions in addressing growing concerns about the intersection of health disparities and the health care workforce,” said Dr. Carlessia A. Hussein, Director of the Maryland Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities.  “Under a State Partnership Grant with the HHS Office of Minority Health, our Workforce Diversity Director Ms. Monica McCann took the lead in drafting and synthesizing the Primer, which is a resource that we hope will serve as an influential tool to tackle disparities in health care among minority and underserved communities.”

Cultural competency is the ability of health organizations and practitioners to recognize individuals’ cultural beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, language preferences, and health practices and apply this knowledge to influence positive health outcomes. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills.

Increased efforts to improve the cultural and health literacy competency of health professionals will play a major role in improving healthcare consumer satisfaction, improving health outcomes, reducing the cost of care, and reducing health care disparities among Maryland’s residents.

“The School of Public Health is proud to partner with the state to translate public health research and best practices into a much-needed and innovative guide for faculty teaching students in health programs,” said Dr. Jane E. Clark, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “Drs. Olivia Carter-Pokras and Bonnie Braun, our faculty members who helped to develop the Primer, are recognized leaders in the creation of cultural competency and health literacy tools. This Primer is a valuable educational resource for college faculty and health professionals seeking to better serve the health needs of our state’s diverse population.”

       

The Primer is particularly timely considering implementation of the Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act of 2012. The Act’s provisions included the establishment of a Cultural Competency Workgroup under the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council (MHQCC).  The Workgroup’s charge includes examining appropriate standards for cultural and linguistic competency for medical and behavioral health treatment, and recommending criteria for health professionals in Maryland to receive continuing education in cultural competency and health literacy training.

“Our state has demonstrated remarkable leadership in developing its comprehensive strategy, which includes cultural and linguistic competency training for health professionals, to address health disparities,” said Dr. Lisa Cooper, Co-Chair of the MHQCC Cultural Competency Workgroup and Director of the Johns Hopkins Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities.  “This Primer will serve as a valuable resource to educators and administrators who are creating or enhancing programs, and the training provided will empower health professionals to be part of the solution to health disparities.”

"I am proud of the work that we have accomplished in Maryland, incorporating cultural competency and health literacy as strategies to eliminate healthcare disparities,” said Marcos Pesquera, Co-Chair of the MHQCC Cultural Competency Workgroup and Executive Director of the Adventist HealthCare Center on Health Disparities. “This tool will serve as a great resource when training our current and future healthcare provider workforce, and will equip them for the wonderful opportunities that caring for a diverse community brings."

To learn more about the Primer and download a copy, visit http://dhmh.maryland.gov/mhhd/CCHLP.