QI Tips: How Culturally Sensitive Are Your Patient Materials?

Nearly 21 percent of people living in America reported in the most recent census that they spoke a language other than English at home, with only around half reporting that they spoke English very well. As the US sees an increase—160 percent in the last two decades—in the number of residents speaking languages other than English at home, the American healthcare system faces the challenge of providing culturally sensitive patient materials.

Here are some health literacy tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for developing culturally and linguistically appropriate materials.

  1. Identify your audience. It sounds simple, but this is a critical step. Spend time talking to patients and families—using a translator, if necessary—to find out their needs and values. What are their cultural and spiritual preferences related to their health? What gives them angst? What don’t they understand about their care experience? What is their level of knowledge about various aspects of their healthcare visit?
  2. Determine key concepts for your messaging. The key concepts and messaging will depend on how much your target audience knows about the topic, something you identified in your conversations with them (see Tip #1). Always keep the user’s needs front and center when determining the key concepts or main point of your communications.
  3. Keep messages simple. To keep messaging from getting cluttered or misunderstood, keep your messages short and limited in number. Avoid insider jargon and abbreviations or acronyms. Try to use a conversational approach to writing (like you are talking to a friend) and be consistent with word usage by avoiding unnecessary or overly complicated synonyms.
  4. Test materials. Make sure you test a draft of your materials with your audience to determine whether you are on target. Your audience should understand the content and be satisfied with how it is presented. For example, symbols could have different meanings to different people. Testing your materials will help bring these differences to light.

Learn more about NICHQ’s work to improve cultural competency in children’s healthcare.

QI Tips: Cultural Sensitivity