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Honing Cultural and Linguistic Competence
Young Latina patient receiving treatment Innovations for Building Cultural and Linguistic Competence

This page features innovative programs and quality tools for improving cultural and linguistic competence as well as reducing health care disparities for vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities. For many health issues, from heart disease, to diabetes, to cancer, outcomes for ethnic and racial minorities continue to lag. AHRQ’s 2010 National Healthcare Disparities and Quality Reports demonstrate that health care quality for racial and ethnic minorities remains suboptimal.1 Delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate care is an important way that health care providers can address these persistent gaps. Ultimately, doing so can move organizations toward providing high-quality care to vulnerable populations in a way that they can access and understand, leading to improved health outcomes.

The profiles and quality tools presented here provide a wide range of innovative models for advancing cultural and linguistic competence. Many of the programs address the principles and activities outlined in the National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services adopted by the Office of Minority Health. The page also includes perspectives from leaders in the field, definitions of related concepts, and links to additional resources.

Innovation Profiles
Innovations to Add Cultural and Linguistic Competence to Your Organization More Cultural and Linguistic Competence Innovations >>
Quality Tools
Tools to Grow Your Cross-Cultural Skills More Cultural and Linguistic Competence QualityTools >>
Voices From the Field
Diverse Perspectives from Cultural and Linguistic Competence Leaders
CLAS Standards: The National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) consist of 14 standards intended to define cultural and linguistic competence for health care organizations in a measurable and actionable way. The standards address three subject areas: culturally competent care, language access services, and organizational supports for cultural competence. Four of the standards are mandates, meaning that all recipients of Federal funds must adhere to them. Revised standards are expected to be released by the Office of Minority Health in 2011. The Joint Commission, National Quality Forum, and National Committee on Quality Assurance have also taken the lead in providing policies, standards, and guidelines on implementing culturally and linguistically appropriate care.
Additional Resources
  1. 2010 National Healthcare Disparities and Quality Reports. Available at:
  2. AHRQ. “What is Cultural and Linguistic Competence.” Available at:
  3. Office of Minority Health. “What are health disparities.” Available at:
  4. Carter-Pokras O, Baquet C. What Is a “Health Disparity?” Public Health Reports Sept-Oct 2002; Vol 117: 426-434. Available at:
  5. AHRQ. “What are health care disparities.” Available at:
Last updated: February 26, 2014.
What Is Cultural and Linguistic Competence?

Cultural and Linguistic Competence: The ability of health care providers and health care organizations to understand and respond effectively to the cultural and linguistic needs brought by the patient to the health care encounter.2

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African American doctor
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In 3 of 6 years, non-Hispanic Blacks were less likely to take daily preventive asthma medicine than non-Hispanic Whites.
Being Aware

Health Care Disparities: Health disparities are the persistent gaps between the health status of minorities and non-minorities in the United States.3 They are also increasingly understood to refer to differences that occur due to gender, education or income, living in rural areas, or sexual orientation, in addition to race and ethnicity.4 Health care disparities refer to differences in health care for different populations. Two important aspects that affect health outcomes are access to health care and the quality of health care.5

Health care disparities are influenced by factors such as lack of access to preventative care and/or quality medical care due to cultural/language barriers, low income, lack of insurance, and geographic location among other factors. See examples of key health disparities by racial and ethnic group in comparison with White counterparts.