4 Best Practices for Providing Inclusive Healthcare

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The debate over health coverage in the U.S. is dominated by opposing concepts of privately funded health coverage versus universal health care coverage, and it’s fueled numerous conversations about inclusivity and equity. With over half of Americans committed to extending coverage to more people, the challenge of providing more inclusive healthcare will continue to be a priority for the industry.

Despite the momentum, the fact remains that marginalized populations still face profound struggles inside the American healthcare system. The challenge is both immediate and complex: social determinants of health and how those dynamics play out as biases and assumptions in healthcare institutions can have negative impacts that extend far beyond the doctor’s office.

A major part of delivering health services to minorities, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized populations is equipping professionals with the training and knowledge to meet them where they are and focus on relationships that encourage engagement. Courses like Anti-discriminatory Practice as Cultural Competence with LGBTQIA+ Patient Populations by Premiere give healthcare workers the skills to identify problematic situations and foster more inclusive healthcare environments. It’s a key part of the solution as well as a professional obligation.

In addition to a strong commitment to continuing education, there are several ways institutions can begin prioritizing truly patient-centered care to close these gaps. Here are four best practices that can make a difference for all your patients.

1. Minimize Stereotypes and Assumptions

Biases negatively affect relationships everywhere in society, but when it comes to accessing and engaging with health services, these stereotypes and assumptions can seriously impact the overall health of marginalized populations. Implicit and explicit biases can come out in words or actions, bringing incorrect assumptions to life and leaving patients feeling unheard and reluctant to seek care.

These biases can even get in the way of diagnosing and treating serious problems. For instance, assuming a patient who is overweight must lack discipline could result in lost opportunities to identify and treat underlying mental or physical health issues. Worse, being shamed and dismissed can make someone less likely to seek care again and allow minor issues to develop into life-threatening emergencies. 

A person’s relationship with healthcare providers is built on trust, and biased assumptions can break that trust in a matter of seconds. By addressing stereotypes and minimizing biases, health professionals can take a big step toward creating truly inclusive healthcare systems.

2. Use Current Terminology

No matter how innocent intentions are, even the words used when describing a patient’s condition can engender resistance and a sense of exclusion. Current best practices include language that focuses on the patient first, and then their health challenges. Referring to someone as a “child with autism” instead of autistic, or a young man “with diabetes” as opposed to “a diabetic” defines a patient as a person, not a faceless condition to be examined. 

Also, being careful about describing a patient’s experience with their health is an important area to focus on when pursuing inclusive healthcare. Rephrasing descriptions like “suffering from diabetes” as “living with diabetes” carries a less negative tone and removes judgment from the characterization.

3. Create an Inclusive Physical Space

If patients have trouble accessing and navigating a healthcare facility, they’re very likely to feel less welcome. Institutions should focus on supporting physical, cognitive, and sensory needs to optimize the patient experience. While patient safety is paramount, an inclusive design is often possible even in limited spaces. 

Assuring doorways are wide enough for people with motorized wheelchairs or mobility devices, and that the furniture, gowns, and equipment can accommodate different body sizes takes modest planning, but goes a long way toward making everyone feel welcome. For people living with conditions like dementia or neurodevelopmental abnormalities, color and contrast may be beneficial to support them in finding their way. Depending on the patient population being served, it may be a good idea to provide a quiet room for people who may need to observe religious practices or manage over-stimulation.

Finally, something as simple as providing literature that focuses on LGBTQIA+ health issues can open conversations with groups that have historically complicated relationships with traditional health systems. Not only does it raise awareness, but it communicates that your institution is informed and ready to help.

4. Support Organizational Commitments

Healthcare organizations have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of the communities they serve, and making a difference begins with connecting with local community organizations and putting systems in place throughout healthcare institutions. Executive leaders need to be called to action, and when they commit they need to be supported. If there is a zero-tolerance policy in place for non-inclusive staff behaviors, for instance, the policy must be supported on multiple levels and equitably enforced across the board.

Inclusive care also needs to be intentional. Institutions can’t assume that their service is inclusive just because they provide services to “everyone”. Inclusive healthcare should be assessed independently, measured, and validated for inclusive practices continuously. Also, it’s important to recognize that health systems include administrative and financial services that engage directly with patients, and they can also become barriers to care. Equity and inclusion need to extend to every part of the patient experience, including reception, medical records, and referral services.  Finally, it’s important to know how the care is being perceived in the community. Healthcare institutions should pursue feedback, bring local leadership into important cultural conversations, and ensure feedback processes include follow-ups and steps for taking action. 

Implement Simple Practices to Provide Inclusive Healthcare

Implementing these four best practices in support of inclusive healthcare can help you become part of the solution to creating more inclusive healthcare. However, our understanding of these issues is always evolving, and that means best practices will continue to be refined and updated. Continuing education to support your professional growth in this area is critical. Coursework created by Premiere like Anti-discriminatory Practice as Cultural Competence with LGBTQIA+ Patient Populations by Brian Masciadrelli, PhD, LICSW (MA), LMSW (NY) Adjunct Instructor in Music Therapy - SUNY Fredonia, President - Court Appointed Special Advocates of Chautauqua, offers a detailed look into the topic of cultural competence. 

Continuing education is foundational to professional growth, and with courses created by industry-leading experts committed to bringing you the most up-to-date evidence-based practices, Premiere makes it easy to become a part of the solution for delivering more inclusive healthcare. 

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