Cultural health capital and the interactional dynamics of patient-centered care

Soc Sci Med. 2013 Sep;93:113-20. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jun 22.


As intuitive and inviting as it may appear, the concept of patient-centered care has been difficult to conceptualize, institutionalize and operationalize. Informed by Bourdieu's concepts of cultural capital and habitus, we employ the framework of cultural health capital to uncover the ways in which both patients' and providers' cultural resources, assets, and interactional styles influence their abilities to mutually achieve patient-centered care. Cultural health capital is defined as a specialized collection of cultural skills, attitudes, behaviors and interactional styles that are valued, leveraged, and exchanged by both patients and providers during clinical interactions. In this paper, we report the findings of a qualitative study conducted from 2010 to 2011 in the Western United States. We investigated the various elements of cultural health capital, how patients and providers used cultural health capital to engage with each other, and how this process shaped the patient-centeredness of interactions. We find that the accomplishment of patient-centered care is highly dependent upon habitus and the cultural health capital that both patients and providers bring to health care interactions. Not only are some cultural resources more highly valued than others, their differential mobilization can facilitate or impede engagement and communication between patients and their providers. The focus of cultural health capital on the ways fundamental social inequalities are manifest in clinical interactions enables providers, patients, and health care organizations to consider how such inequalities can confound patient-centered care.

Keywords: Bourdieu; Cultural health capital; Habitus; Health inequalities; Patient-centered care; Patient–provider interactions; United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Cultural Competency*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation
  • Patient-Centered Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Qualitative Research
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States