Investing in language and cultural resources

Culture affects many things, including how people approach health care. Minnesota is a diverse state, with more than 100 languages other than English spoken at home2; a variety of urban, suburban and rural cities; and a wide range of family incomes.  This is why investing in language and cultural resources is a key priority of the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

Here are some ways that organizations can help bridge the gaps and make health care more accessible for the many different cultures and communities in Minnesota:

  1. Improve health care access for diverse, low-income, and rural communities. Access can be a large barrier for patients, particularly those from diverse or rural communities or those who are low-income. One way to address this would be to provide information about transportation options to nearby clinics. Additionally, telemedicine opportunities could be expanded in rural areas.
  2. Provide information in more languages and improve access to interpreters. Health care facilities could provide easy, free access to interpreters. Because some medical terms don’t translate well, medical interpreters should be trained in health literacy best practices and new ways to explain information accurately, effectively and consistently. Here are some health literacy best practices for reference.
  3. Work with community leaders and cultural groups to reach populations with limited health literacy. Because many diverse communities look to community leaders as trusted messengers, health organizations could work with these leaders to identify better ways to provide resources in those communities. Health and cultural organizations could work together to develop templates or guides to help communities disseminate health information in culturally sensitive ways. Additionally, large health care entities could grow their partnerships with community-based cultural organizations to ensure that representatives from different cultural groups are represented as stakeholders when developing resources.
  4. Boost cultural competency training and education. To help ensure health professionals understand different cultural norms, organizations could train staff and volunteers about the many communities they serve. A special emphasis should be placed on front-line health workers, including paramedics, dental hygienists, community health workers, public health nurses, mental health and substances use disorder professionals, and mental health crisis response teams. 

For more information and tips, read the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

1Shin HB, and Bruno R.  Language use and English-speaking ability.  Accessed February 2016.
2Hirisi I.  Minnesotans speak more than 100 languages at home, new data finds. MinnPost. November 5, 2015.

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