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How to become a more culturally competent dental practice

It can be easy to think that most people you interact with have a similar background to your own. But when it comes to practicing dentistry, making these sorts of assumptions and judgements can actually restrict your ability to successfully treat your current patients or even to grow your patient base.

So how do you address and change these beliefs and habits? That’s where cultural competency comes in.

What is cultural competency?

Cultural competency is your ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures and belief systems that differ from your own. Cultural competence is a lifelong process of becoming more aware and seeing past your deeply engrained viewpoint.

Cultural competency consists of five components:

  • Cultural awareness. Taking time to understand your patients’ beliefs, values and practices.
  • Cultural knowledge. Learning about the world views of diverse patient groups.
  • Cultural skill. Collecting relevant cultural data about your patients’ health problems and conducting interviews and evaluations to determine treatments based on needs.
  • Cultural encounters. Participating in multicultural activities to learn about diverse groups directly.
  • Cultural desire. Delivering care for all patients equally, regardless of cultural values and beliefs.

The goal isn’t to change your beliefs or values. Instead, you’re learning to shift your perspective so you can better work with and help people who may be different than you. By understanding your patients’ viewpoints and meeting them where they’re at, you can provide more effective treatment and support that will fit their unique needs and means.

How to become more culturally competent

The first step to becoming more culturally competent is evaluating where your practice currently stands.  For example, consider how patients who primarily speak a non-English language would navigate your office to schedule and come in for a typical visit. Would they be able to easily communicate with your staff and fill out forms? Would your important in-office signage be understandable? How would you discuss procedures with them?

Do your best to identify areas of improvement and start working towards addressing them. Try to think about how people of different religions, ethnicities, races and customs would experience your office. It’s likely that you won’t see everything, but even small changes can be a massive help to patients. Make sure that you create a warm, welcoming environment so that every patient feels comfortable asking questions and participating in their care so you can better serve them.

One great way to address issues is by giving patients an easy way to submit feedback and encouraging them to do so. Here are some ideas on how to get started:

  • Create a place for feedback. Set up an email address or an online form where patients can provide direct feedback. You should also consider creating a place where everyone who works in your practice can add their thoughts or ideas that patients mention off-hand.
  • Tell your patients how to submit feedback. You could include a small card in any goodie bags with a URL, email address or even a QR code that points to the form. To get the most helpful feedback, include instructions in commonly spoken languages and give examples of the kind of ideas you’re looking for.
  • Analyze the results. When you start receiving responses, pay attention to trends and suggestions that pop up frequently. If multiple people are having issues with the forms in your practice, it may be time to update them!

An important part of cultural competence is taking action, with the goal of improving your service and creating better outcomes for your patients.

Resources from Delta Dental

Delta Dental offers a variety of resources to help you create a culturally inclusive practice.

  • Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program offers enrollees interpretation via telephone in more than 170 languages. On-site interpreters are also available for Delta Dental enrollees with limited English proficiency — at no cost to the enrollee or you. (Onsite interpretation services require at least 72 hours’ advanced notice.) You can learn more about language assistance by logging in to Provider Tools and navigating to the Reference Library.
  • Subscribe to the monthly FYI newsletter to get helpful articles on topics like serving non-English-speaking patients, blind and low-vision patients and deaf and hard-of-hearing patients

As a more culturally competent practice, you’ll be in a much better position to care for your patients and grow your practice.

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