It may seem strange to think that there is a connection between language and the quality of healthcare an individual receives, but recent studies show proof of it.
According to the 2011 census data from the Office for National Statistics in the UK, the healthiest people in Wales and in England are those who have a firm grasp of the English language and whose main language is not English. Those who utilize English as a second language were actually healthier than either those who were not proficient in English or those whose main language is English.
The data showed that approximately 300,000 residents who spoke little or no English reported poor health. Accurate medical translation targeted to the non-English speaking public might hold the answer to improved health.
Here in the U.S., data that shows a link between language and healthcare also exists. A study conducted last year by the Journal for Healthcare Quality (JHQ) cited communication problems between medical practitioners and those patients with limited proficiency in English as the leading cause of errors. The research also found that these errors occur during patient discharge, emergency department visits, medical reconciliation, surgical care, and the informed consent process. There is an obvious need to address this issue to prevent more costly errors that could also lead to medical malpractice claims. Viable solutions include providing properly translated medical materials to patients, improved interpreter services, and healthcare staff training.
However, simply employing these measures is not nearly enough. There is also the matter of cultural factors that may influence the translation. For example, a doctor who speaks fluent Spanish cannot just directly translate information into English. The doctor might not get the correct message across or worse, it might be interpreted as an offensive remark. The American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics noted that there is an inextricable link between language and culture and that in order to translate accurately, cultural competency and effective communication are both needed.
With all the evidence showing the relationship between language and healthcare, medical professionals must not only think about what they say, but also about the patient’s level of comprehension. The challenges presented by the language barrier between physician and patient can greatly affect outcomes. Language professionals believe that clear understanding through precise medical translations of language-specific health information is the key to overcoming this. ISO-certified medical translations from translation companies like Excel Translations can help address this problem and hopefully contribute to improving society’s overall health.
The healthiest people in the UK speak English “proficiently” as a second language, City A.M., July 9, 2015
Language Barriers and the Patient Encounter, Journal of Ethics, American Medical Association
Medical errors often result from language barriers, Science Daily