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When Doctors And Patients Speak Different Languages

I can’t say that I enjoy the patient encounter as much when it involves a translator. There’s just something about communicating through a third party that changes the experience. But there are some things you can do as a provider to bridge the language gap:

Look. Even thought the translator is doing the talking, look at the patient just as if you are asking the question yourself. There’s a tendency to let the translator act as a surrogate with respect to eye contact and visual feedback.

Smile. A smile doesn’t need translation. It conveys very clearly that have a sincere interest in making a connection.

Touch. I never leave the exam room without some type of sincere physical contact. A firm handshake or a hand on the shoulder go a long way in closing the language barrier.

Say something funny. Patients don’t expect jokes to come through a translator. And there’s nothing better than watching a silly, lighthearted remark make its way into another language. It’s powerful and fun.

It’s important to think about how we can recreate the elements of a one-on-one dialog. What do you do to make a connection beyond spoken language?

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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One Response to “When Doctors And Patients Speak Different Languages”

  1. Suzana says:

    Don’t forget the interpreter! If the patient discussion is a tough one (i.e. difficult decisions, giving bad news), talk to the interpreter before going into the room. It helps if they’re also ready.

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