“HOW DO YOU distinguish between being politically correct and professionally competent?” asked one person I interviewed for the article about New Jersey's new mandate on cultural-competency training (see page 12). “There is more than one type of PC, you know.”

That just stopped me cold. From everything I've read, the disparity in healthcare for minorities is real. And while we've made some gains in some areas, inequalities are worsening in many other areas for some ethnic groups, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Annual Healthcare Disparities and Quality Report Card. In addition, a recent survey by the American Medical Association's Institute for Ethics found that more than half of physicians believe that the quality of care that minority patients receive is inferior to that received by nonminority patients, and fully three-quarters believe they can do something to improve the situation. To me, this would put cultural-competency training firmly in the “professional competency” variety of PC.

But the fact that the mandate in New Jersey came from the legislature makes me a little cynical. While I'm sure the law's backers have the best interests of their constituents at heart, passing an unfunded, undefined requirement with no follow-up plan that I could see to ensure that the training actually makes a difference in reducing the healthcare gap between different populations — well, that sways me more to the other side of the PC spectrum. Maybe this will change when the State Board of Medical Examiners comes out with its requirements; as of now, it's all very hazy.

As CME providers, I'm sure you want to see this movement in New Jersey, and nascent movements in this direction in other states, as more than just a new growth area for CME. I know I'd like to see this as the beginning of a true gain in professional competency in this area for our healthcare workers.

To have that happen, though, I believe we need to show that CME improves docs' understanding of diverse populations' healthcare needs, and that doctors who have a better understanding of diverse populations provide better care and have better patient outcomes. If we can get objective evidence that those credit hours translate into improvements in patient health, well, we won't need legislative mandates, or other pressure tactics. Physicians and other healthcare workers want to do the right thing, and with evidence that it will improve their patients' health, they will.
Sue Pelletier,
(978) 448-0377,