Breaking the Communication Barrier in Healthcare


Communication is vital in our daily life activities. Without clear communication, it’s so easy to misconstrue things and misunderstanding is always a precursor of conflicts. Excellent communication skills are important in any field of practice, but most especially in the medical field where there is no room for errors.

There are many reasons why effective communication is essential in the field of healthcare just as it is in other practices. Healthcare professionals must effectively communicate not only to their patients but to other members of the healthcare team as well to successfully manage the patient’s condition  and promote quality care.

One of the major communication barriers in the medical field is language barrier. Even when we all speak the same language, language barrier may still exist. It is because we were born on different generations. We either use seemingly archaic words or like kids these days we are fond of using slang that compels others to consult urban dictionary. Aside from that, coming from different regions of the country, our accents may vary or we may use terms that are local to where we come from. Another possible barrier is the use of jargons. Different professions use their own jargons. Imagine talking to a patient, discussing about his condition or a certain procedure using all these rather strange medical terms. There will be so much unwarranted confusion in that and it may greatly hurt communication.  Well, thanks to the internet. It has become easier for us to look up words or terms that we are not familiar with.

Communication is already challenging enough even when we are all native English speakers so you can just imagine the struggle for those who speak limited or no English. Limited English Proficiency (LEP) is a great challenge in the medical field for both patients and healthcare professionals. It has been found that nearly 20 million people in the US are not English proficient and this language barrier greatly affects the quality of healthcare.

Hospitals in the US, specifically in California and Texas, hire interpreters to help facilitate communication between patients and healthcare providers so the medical history, symptoms, treatment and other matters pertaining to the patient’s admission can be successfully managed. However, not all institutions have their own interpreters to act as a bridge between patients and healthcare professionals.

Language barrier does not only affect the quality of patient care, but this has also led to misdiagnosis of certain conditions and even fatal treatments. These unfortunate incidences have become commonplace as the amalgamation of different cultures into one community continues.

Institutions have tried different approaches in an attempt to address the language barrier issue in the field of healthcare. The International Community Health Services per se with four clinics around Seattle, Washington, require all their medical staff to speak at least one language aside from English.  Healthcare providers have also gone to great lengths, using strategies like sign/hand language, illustrations and drawings to attend to their patients’ needs as promptly as they can because it is against the law to refuse or delay treatment due to language barrier. Patients who do not speak English are also suggested to bring along friends or family members who speak the language.  Hospitals also tried their best efforts to translate documents to ensure that the patient or family members understand them. Despite all these efforts to break the communication barrier in healthcare, errors remain highly unavoidable.

It is difficult for physicians to treat what they don’t understand, according to an article about the physician’s role as patient advocate published in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics . That is why it is very important for healthcare professionals, especially physicians, to be effective communicators so patients’ needs are better addressed and excellent care is guaranteed.







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