A visit to the doctor can be daunting enough, but imagine how much more challenging it could be if you couldn’t understand your doctor or if your doctor didn’t take into account your health beliefs or practices? Language and culture are critical factors to consider in providing high quality health care and services, and with the rapidly changing demographics of the nation, cultural and linguistic competency has never been more important.
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health unveiled the enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards), expanding the definition and scope of the first CLAS standards issued in 2000. The CLAS standards are intended to advance health equity, improve quality and help eliminate health care disparities by providing a blueprint for individuals and health and health care organizations to implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services. So what do the CLAS standards mean for behavioral health care systems and practitioners?
Research shows that there are disparities in behavioral health among racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minority populations. A recent report on 2003-2011 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanics to have a need for substance use treatment but are less likely to receive treatment at drug or alcohol rehabilitation facilities, hospitals or mental health centers. Combined 2003 to 2011 NSDUH data also indicates that African Americans were less likely than persons of other racial and ethnic groups to need alcohol use treatment in the past year, but more likely to need illicit drug use treatment. Another NSDUH report found that substance use rates were generally higher among American Indian or Alaska Native adolescents compared with national averages. Among individuals admitted for substance abuse treatment, methamphetamines were reported as the primary substance of abuse for three times as many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) than for all other races combined, according to data from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS). Studies have also shown that minority populations have less access to behavioral health care, receive lower quality care and experience worse outcomes even when they do receive care. Barriers such as stigma, cultural beliefs and limited English proficiency can contribute to these disparities.
Implementing strategies to improve and ensure cultural and linguistic competency in our behavioral health care systems is a powerful way to address these disparities and ensure all populations have equal access to services and supports. Capacity building efforts focused on improving cultural and linguistic competency and incorporating the CLAS standards in systems can elevate awareness; enhance the ability to monitor program access, service use and outcomes; and improve quality as a result. The enhanced standards emphasize the importance of strong leadership and governance and how all members of an organization play a critical role in more fully serving the health care needs of their communities. Practitioners and administrators can participate in training to better understand clients and be responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs. At a systems level, some states have taken steps to weave the cultural and linguistic competency into the fabric of their health systems, by passing legislation to implement cultural competency standards.
This National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite you to learn more about the enhanced CLAS standards and think about how you can advance behavioral health equity by incorporating these practices, starting with checking out the Blueprint for extensive explanations of the standards and implementation strategies. You can also find more information about behavioral health disparities and behavioral health resources on SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity website and the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health website.
No comments are available at this time.
Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.
A field with an asterisk (*) before it is a required field.
Comments with links will not be approved.
* Email: (Not displayed with comment)