How to deal with language barriers in the medical field

The amount of Spanish speakers in the United States has increased significantly with over 233% since 1980. Nowadays, there are more than 41 million Spanish speakers in the United States. 

Especially first generation immigrants sometimes struggle with language barriers. This also affects their healthcare. An investigation was conducted on how language barriers affect access to healthcare. It turned out that latino parents reported much more cases of their children living in poor health than non-latinos. 

The investigation also mentioned that non-English-speaking patients receive fewer preventive services and have less access to healthcare than English-speaking patients. Moreover, over 90% of the physicians noted that they needed much more time to treat non-English-speaking patients. Which complicated their healthcare services. 

In the past years, this topic has become more and more relevant with the growing spanish-speaking population. Universities are now offering minors in medical Spanish, studies abroad and internships to better prepare their medical students for language barriers in their work field. 

Even some basic Spanish skills can greatly improve someone’s healthcare experience. Here are some tips on how to deal with language barriers in the medical field. 

Don’t be shy to use google translate and interpreters

We now live in a very dynamic world with many useful digital applications. You should not be shy to use google translator or other types of interpreters. When you work in the medical field with a high amount of Spanish-speaking patients, then this application is a must-have for you!

These tools can easily help you turn a 15 minute, difficult, uncomfortable and unclear conversation into a 5 minute and understandable meeting. And even though communication though an application might not be the best method when talking about someone’s health, it is always better than having misunderstandings about such important topics. 

Be careful when using friends or family-member translators

Although it is a nice gesture from a non-English speaking patient to bring a friend or family member to help in translation, this can cause problems. As most workers in the medical field now, the medical vocabulary is very different from the general and spoken english. Even though someone might seem fluent in the spoken english language, does not mean he also has the comprehensive skills of medical vocabulary. 

It is not true that you can never use patients’ friends or family-members as translators. But you must check carefully if they truly understand you and are able to translate your information correctly to Spanish. Incorrect translations through family members, and especially through someone’s child can get you in serious legal problems if things go wrong. 

It might seem like the quickest and easiest option, but the translation application method might still be a better option.

Woman in Gray Long Sleeve Shirt Wearing White and Black Stethoscope

It is not just a language barrier, there is a cultural barrier

The more experienced workers in the medical field will definitely recognise this, it is not just a language barrier, but a cultural barrier. Even if you speak some Spanish, it is very helpful to be aware of some cultural differences. The best service you could offer is providing a bicultural environment. This supports the patients in truly opening up and providing you all the information you need. 

With the current demographics, translation services within the medical field are no longer considered to be a luxury, but a necessity to provide the needed healthcare services. 

Do you work in the medical field or are you a medical student? Then Proyecto Peru´s extensive medical spanish course can help you master medical spanish skills!

The course is focused on hands-on Spanish speaking skills and teaches you medical introductions and greetings, medical vocabulary and most importantly; how to discuss a patient’s symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Don´t waste time on learning endless grammar rules, but learn Spanish you can implement tomorrow at your job while gradually improving your grammar, vocabulary and speaking skills!