Organisational systems' approaches to improving cultural competence in healthcare: a systematic scoping review of the literature

McCalman, Janya, Jongen, Crystal, and Bainbridge, Roxanne (2017) Organisational systems' approaches to improving cultural competence in healthcare: a systematic scoping review of the literature. International Journal for Equity in Health, 16. 78.

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Introduction: Healthcare organisations serve clients from diverse Indigenous and other ethnic and racial groups on a daily basis, and require appropriate client-centred systems and services for provision of optimal healthcare. Despite advocacy for systems-level approaches to cultural competence, the primary focus in the literature remains on competency strategies aimed at health promotion initiatives, workforce development and student education. This paper aims to bridge the gap in available evidence about systems approaches to cultural competence by systematically mapping key concepts, types of evidence, and gaps in research.

Methods: A literature search was completed as part of a larger systematic search of evaluations and measures of cultural competence interventions in health care in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Seventeen peer-reviewed databases, 13 websites and clearinghouses, and 11 literature reviews were searched from 2002 to 2015. Overall, 109 studies were found, with 15 evaluating systems-level interventions or describing measurements. Thematic analysis was used to identify key implementation principles, intervention strategies and outcomes reported.

Results: Twelve intervention and three measurement studies met our inclusion criteria. Key principles for implementing systems approaches were: user engagement, organisational readiness, and delivery across multiple sites. Two key types of intervention strategies to embed cultural competence within health systems were: audit and quality improvement approaches and service-level policies or strategies. Outcomes were found for organisational systems, the client/practitioner encounter, health, and at national policy level.

Discussion and implications: We could not determine the overall effectiveness of systems-level interventions to reform health systems because interventions were context-specific, there were too few comparative studies and studies did not use the same outcome measures. However, examined together, the intervention and measurement principles, strategies and outcomes provide a preliminary framework for implementation and evaluation of systems-level interventions to improve cultural competence. Identified gaps in the literature included a need for cost and effectiveness studies of systems approaches and explication of the effects of cultural competence on client experience. Further research is needed to explore the extent to which cultural competence improves health outcomes and reduces ethnic and racially-based healthcare disparities.

Item ID: 48949
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1475-9276
Keywords: cultural competency; indigenous; ethnic minorities; health disparities; health systems; health services
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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2017 01:52
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4203 Health services and systems > 420311 Health systems @ 60%
42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4203 Health services and systems > 420399 Health services and systems not elsewhere classified @ 40%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9203 Indigenous Health > 920303 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health - Health System Performance (incl. Effectiveness of Interventions) @ 100%
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