Cultural Humility, Technology, and Healthcare

By Arisa Faron Published on Aug. 08, 2019

With increasing cultural and ethnic diversity in the United States, it has become more and more relevant to address cultural humility in the delivery of healthcare. The term cultural humility has become a popular phrase in the healthcare industry, yet it’s still not well understood by many. Healthcare providers are finding that by diving deeper into the framework of cultural humility, they can more effectively and respectfully deliver care to their patients. 

Cultural Competency vs. Cultural Humility

A similar term, cultural competency, has been popular in the healthcare industry for a while but differs from cultural humility in some important ways. 

Cultural competency describes the process of building up knowledge of minority cultures to better treat and diagnose those patients. While this sounds great, cultural competency gives an illusion that once one becomes “competent” in a culture, that they would be able to understand the minority perspective.

This lead Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia to coin the term “cultural humility” in 1998. The difference is that cultural humility is built on the foundation of self-reflection and growth to increase the understanding of other cultures from the perspective of lifelong learning. 

The Framework of Cultural Humility

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A lifelong commitment to self evaluation: 

Understanding someone’s culture first requires a sense of open-mindedness. For a healthcare provider to incorporate this practice, it requires that he or she anticipates something to be learned from every conversation with a patient.

To fix power imbalances where none ought to exist: 

Often times non-financial barriers to healthcare delivery is lack of trust between a patient and a healthcare provider. To get rid of that barrier, the framework of cultural humility makes the healthcare provider the expert on scientific knowledge and the patient the expert on his or her own personal history and strengths. 

Why does this matter?

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Cultural humility offers the foundation on which the healthcare industry can address the social determinants of health. Now more than ever, differences in socio-economic status, race, gender, environmental conditions, and sexuality have a dramatic impact on the outcome of one’s health. 

According to a Peterson-Kaiser Health Tracker survey in 2017, Americans with lower incomes are less likely to report being in good health than those with higher incomes. There are many factors that could contribute to this trend, including inadequate access to healthcare, lack of education, and harsh living conditions. The survey also found that Hispanic, Black and White women have a higher prevalence of obesity than their male counterparts. Obesity is an important risk factor for many diseases and by addressing obesity, it would reduce disparities in other health outcomes. By addressing these differences through the lens of self-reflection and life-long learning, healthcare professionals can deliver more effective and respectful care to their patients.

Cultural Humility & Technology

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The most challenging aspect of cultural humility is its implementation. Many professionals would agree that it is a necessary component for adequate care-- but how can we accomplish that? The advancement of technology in the healthcare industry could enable the implementation of cultural humility across the industry. 

Healthcare companies have begun to focus on personalized medicine as a way to better ensure the outcomes of their patients. This platform enables physicians to better understand and learn from each of their patients uniquely. Startups are also using technology like AI and machine learning to allow physicians to be more present with their patients by taking away the burden of taking notes. These AI powered scribes enable physicians to better understand a patients needs. Innovations in technology has enabled healthcare providers to embrace the framework of cultural humility by valuing the patient as an individual.

So What Now?

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The development of technology like this is beginning to revolutionize the healthcare industry. Although this technology has the potential to change an industry, implementation of cultural humility is ultimately a choice for the healthcare provider to make. Unless providers are willing to make a perspective shift to self-reflect and commit to life-long learning, we likely won’t witness a change.

The framework of cultural humility has the power to address the social determinants of health that can revolutionize the healthcare industry. As the industry begins to focus more on the individual and their unique needs, implementing cultural humility continues to be a choice that needs to be made. With this perspective, a culture shift can spread beyond the healthcare industry. 

So it’s up to you-- whether you are a healthcare provider, an innovator, a technologist, a mother, or a friend, we can all learn from the framework of cultural humility to better the world around us.

Startups That Enable Cultural Humility

Here are some examples of startup companies that can enable healthcare providers to use the framework of cultural humility:


Heal brings technology innovation to re-humanize the practice of medicine in a way that is fulfilling for doctors and patients alike. 

Gali Health

Gali Health provides on-demand relevant and valid medical information for patients to make sure that no patient ever feels isolated or powerless when facing a medical diagnosis. 


DeepScribe is an AI powered medical scribe. 


PhysIQ uses personalized analytics to detect changes in a patient instead of comparing them to population-based studies. 


Auspex uses AI to provide personalized cancer treatments based on the patient’s unique medical history. 


Medopad provides a technology that is changing the way that patients interact with data and physicians specifically focusing on monitoring rare, complex and chronic diseases remotely. 

About the Author:

Arisa Faron works for the Health vertical at Plug and Play Tech Center. She is a recent graduate from Cal Poly SLO with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. She is passionate about helping people and healthcare innovation. Arisa has previously worked as a research chemist in the biotechnology industry.