Advancing Health Equity through Effective Communication

effective communication

Connecting Cultures would like to thank Jennifer Kenyon for contributing this article in which she generously highlights the topic of her upcoming presentation for the 9th Annual TAHIT Educational Symposium!

Effective communication matters. It improves the likelihood that patients will understand their health conditions and treatment plans, follow health recommendations, and rate their care satisfactorily.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv] In this way, effective communication facilitates the provision of safe, quality health care. The National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care offer health professionals and organizations a blueprint for communicating effectively with diverse patients by providing culturally and linguistically competent services. Cultural and linguistic competency helps ensure that care is responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs. 

The National CLAS Standards, developed by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), intend to advance health equity, improve quality, and help eliminate health care disparities. They present health and health care organizations with a set of action steps for providing effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful care and services. Four Standards in particular focus on communication and language assistance: 

Standard 5:     
Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all health care and services.

Standard 6:     
Inform all individuals of the availability of language assistance services clearly and in their preferred language, verbally and in writing.

Standard 7:     
Ensure the competence of individuals providing language assistance, recognizing that the use of untrained individuals and/or minors as interpreters should be avoided.

Standard 8:     
Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the language commonly used by the populations in the service area. 

In-depth descriptions of each Standard, as well as recommendations for implementation, may be found in OMH’s guide for the National CLAS Standards, entitled A Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice. OMH also offers a Guide to Providing Effective Communication and Language Assistance Services, which covers strategies for communicating in a way that considers patients’ cultural, health literacy, and language needs. It is designed for health care providers, administrators, and executives who work across a broad spectrum of health care organizations.

These resources and more are available on OMH’s Think Cultural Health website at This online cultural and linguistic competency clearinghouse offers a variety of resources to assist any health organization or professional communicate effectively with culturally and linguistically diverse patients, thereby advancing health equity.

[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. (2013). National standards for culturally and linguistically appropriate services in health and health care: A blueprint for advancing and sustaining CLAS policy and practice. Retrieved from
[ii] Levinson, W., Lesser, C.S., & Epstein, R.M. (2010). Developing physician communication skills for patient-centered care. Health Affairs, 29(7), 1310-1318. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0450
[iii] Marks, R. (2009). Ethics and patient education: Health literacy and cultural dilemmas. Health Promotion Practice. 10(3): 328-32. doi: 10.1177/1524839909335657
[iv] Wynia, M. K., & Osborn, C. Y. (2010). Health literacy and communication quality in health care organizations. Journal of Health Communication. 15(Suppl 2): 102–115. doi:10.1080/10810730.2010.499981

Jennifer Kenyon is a research associate at the Health Determinants and Disparities Practice at SRA, International, Inc. In this role, she serves on the project team for Think Cultural Health, an HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) initiative that develops cultural and linguistic competency-related educational and policy resources, as well as the project team for OMH’s National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Standards in Health and Health Care

Will you be attending the 9th Annual TAHIT Educational Symposium September 25 & 26, 2015 in Galveston, Texas? Be sure to attend Jennifer's presentation The National CLAS Standards: A Blueprint for Integrating Cultural and Linguistic Competency Across Healthcare Systems for an even more in-depth discussion and analysis of this topic!