Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, with its Office of Minority Health, developed national standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) to assure that all individuals regardless of their background or culture have access to quality health care.
CLAS standards help health care staff consider a patient’s culture and language when they visit a hospital or doctor’s office. There are 14 standards divided into three themes. Standards 1-3 relate to cultural competence, or ensuring health care staff understand the diversity of their patients. Standards 4-7 relate to language access services for people who do not speak English well or speak it as their second language. Standards 8-14 relate to actions that entire health care organizations can take to ensure they properly care for a diverse population. Some of these standards are required for health care organizations to follow if they receive federal funds while others are recommendations.
The first seven standards are related to patient care and are listed below (for the entire list of standards please visit the federal Office of Minority Health webpage on CLAS):
Health care organizations should ensure that patients/consumers receive from all staff member's effective, understandable, and respectful care that is provided in a manner compatible with their cultural health beliefs and practices and preferred language. This means that health care staff should consider a patient’s background and culture while caring for them.
Health care organizations should implement strategies to recruit, retain, and promote at all levels of the organization a diverse staff and leadership that are representative of the demographic characteristics of the service area. This means that hospitals, doctor's offices, and other health care facilities should make sure their health care staff are just as diverse as the groups that they serve.
Health care organizations should ensure that staff at all levels and across all disciplines receive ongoing education and training in culturally and linguistically appropriate service delivery. This means that hospitals, doctor's offices, and other health care facilities should teach their staff how to be aware of a patient's culture and background while treating them.
(Federal Requirement) Health care organizations must offer and provide language assistance services, including bilingual staff and interpreter services, at no cost to each patient/consumer with limited English proficiency at all points of contact, in a timely manner, during all hours of operation. This means hospitals, doctor's offices, and other health care facilities must provide free interpreters to patients who need them if they receive any funds from the federal government.
(Federal Requirement) Health care organizations must provide to patients/consumers in their preferred language both verbal offers and written notices informing them of their right to recieve language assistance services. This means that hospitals, doctor's offices, and other health care facilities must let patients know that they have a right to be provided an interpreter both by telling them and having it written down in a language they can understand.
(Federal Requirement) Health care organizations must assure the competence of language assistance provided to limited English proficient patients/consumers by interpreters and bilingual staff. Family and friends should not be used to provide interpretation services (except on request by the patient/consumer). This means that interpreters need to be qualified. Unless the patient asks for a family member to interpret, they should not be used.
(Federal Requirement) Health care organizations must make available easily understood patient-related materials and post signage in the languages of the commonly encountered groups and/or groups represented in the service area. This means that hospitals, doctor's offices, and other health care facilities must know the languages are most commonly used by their patients and must make sure the health information given out or posted on the walls is written in those languages.