Conn. doctors to get more cultural competency training

The state medical society is writing instruction materials after a survey showed that Connecticut physicians think such education would help them serve patients better.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Nov. 25, 2009

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A recent survey of Connecticut State Medical Society members found that many physicians in the state believe that improved access to cultural competency training would help them deliver better care to patients with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Because of the findings, the CSMS is developing educational materials for physicians and office staff about cultural differences that could impact health care, said Kathleen A. LaVorgna, MD, president of the medical society.

A new state law that takes effect Oct. 1, 2010, will require physicians to take continuing medical education credits in cultural diversity to renew their licenses. The state medical society expects to help develop CME curricula to carry out the mandate, Dr. LaVorgna said.

The CSMS survey was sent via e-mail and regular mail to members in 17 specialties, with 300 responding (link).

The survey exposed gaps in physician education on cultural competency, Dr. LaVorgna said. For example, fewer than two in five physicians reported receiving diversity education while in medical school or during residency training. Seventy percent of respondents said they were not aware of educational programs in cultural competency that were available to them.

Although the findings revealed a "sobering story about our ability to communicate with patients, the good news is that we can have an immediate impact on this situation by providing the kind of credible cultural awareness education physicians want and need," Dr. LaVorgna said.

Other survey findings:

  • Physicians who work in small practices -- more than 80% of the 7,300 physicians in the state are in practices of four or fewer doctors -- were less likely to have received cultural diversity training.
  • Physicians older than 55 and those whose patients were predominately white gave themselves lower ratings for providing culturally appropriate care.
  • Women physicians were significantly more likely to provide interpreter services and patient-education materials in other languages.

Primary care physicians identified patients' lack of health insurance as a key barrier to care, especially when attempting to schedule appointments with specialists. The CSMS will provide educational material to patients and physicians about state programs that provide insurance coverage for low-income people, Dr. LaVorgna said.

The survey was conducted with funds from a $400,000 two-year grant provided by the Connecticut Health Foundation. The funds also will cover the development of educational material, Dr. LaVorgna said.

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