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

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

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 »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »