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In this Issue: It’s all Greek to me: Accommodating multiple languages
It’s all Greek to me: Accommodating multiple languages

In Canada, there are four key constituencies affected by language barriers to healthcare, according to a Health Canada report titled “Language Barriers in Access to Health Care.” These groups are: First Nations and Inuit communities, immigrants, deaf persons, and persons who speak English or French, but who are living in an area where their first language is not spoken commonly (like an English-speaker living in rural Quebec, for instance). Differences in languages can cause minor inconveniences or misunderstandings in many aspects of life. When it comes to healthcare, however, a language barrier can be the difference between life and death.The Health Canada report found that language barriers between patients and healthcare providers can result in adverse effects on quality of care, rights of patients, and patient health outcomes. Many major hospital systems employ around-the-clock translation services as a means to cope with language barriers that could adversely affect a patient’s diagnosis, prognosis and treatment or care. But is it enough?

Doctors and nurses who speak the language of patients greatly improve the quality care in the eyes of non-English or French-speaking patients. Other considerations are accommodations made throughout all levels of care, not just in emergency settings.

Consider implementing these ideas in your healthcare organization today in order to communicate most effectively with all patients and to provide a sense of welcome and comfort to those in often sensitive situations:

  • Connect the dots. If your healthcare organization works with speakers of a certain language on a very regular basis, consider alleviating common questions and nervousness among patients by offering bilingual signage, reading materials and informational brochures.
  • Don’t wait. Be proactive in letting patients know about any multilingual resources available to them. Clip pamphlets or booklets of resource lists and contact information to Hand Sanitizing Spray and give to patients as a memorable way to spread the word. Or, hand out pens with contact information for assistance with multilingual information.
  • Remember the kids. Find plenty of bilingual books to stock in waiting areas and make sure the children’s floors have foreign language films or cartoons to keep them entertained. Barriers can be greater with young, non-English speaking children who are shy or have difficulties expressing themselves in their own language, let alone a new one. Use visual cues, like crayons and paper or Mood Meter Magnet, to further assist in communication.
  • Involve staff. Foster awareness of the need for multilingual resources and understanding among staff. Consider hosting regular staff seminars that address what actions should be taken when a new patient who does not speak English requires care and how to communicate through cultural differences. Also consider teaching staff basic phrases in common languages. Reward staff members for participation with popular items at any price point, like a branded Fleece Jacket, Chocolate Truffle Box or fun USB Micro People.

Language barriers are real and it means better care on behalf of your organization by accommodating all patients and working to make them feel comfortable.

“Language Barriers in Access to Health Care.” Health Canada. 31 Mar. 2006. Web. 21 May 2010.

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