Understanding cultural and linguistic barriers to health literacy

Ky Nurse. Oct-Dec 2010;58(4):4, 6-9.

Abstract

Nurses today are providing care, education, and case management to an increasingly diverse patient population that is challenged with a triad of cultural, linguistic, and health literacy barriers. For these patients, culture and language set the context for the acquisition and application of health literacy skills. Yet the nursing literature offers minimal help in integrating cultural and linguistic considerations into nursing efforts to address patient health literacy. Nurses are in an ideal position to facilitate the interconnections between patient culture, language, and health literacy in order to improve health outcomes for culturally diverse patients. In this article the authors begin by describing key terms that serve as background for the ensuing discussion explaining how culture and language need to be considered in any interaction designed to address health literacy for culturally diverse patients. The authors then discuss the interrelationships between health literacy, culture, and language. Next relevant cultural constructs are introduced as additional background. This is followed by a description of how literacy skills are affected by culture and language, a note about culturally diverse, native-born patients, and a presentation of case examples illustrating how culture and language barriers are seen in patients' healthcare experiences. The authors conclude by offering recommendations for promoting health literacy in the presence of cultural and language barriers and noting the need for nursing interventions that fully integrate health literacy, culture, and language.