Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (1)

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*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


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.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »