Language Matters: Communication Problems in Medicine

Language barriers are difficult enough in everyday life, but when you need medical help and you don’t speak the local language, the problem can be so much worse.

Over on WebMD, a doctor blogs about some of the challenges involved when a doctor and patient don’t speak the same language, including the awkward or funny situations that can come up when using an interpreter to discuss personal medical information.

Doctors want to help you, but how can they do that if you can't communicate?

Even if the doctors speaks some of the patient’s language or vice versa, medical language is so specialized that it can still be difficult to express what you mean.  ”Dizziness” or “diarrhea” aren’t usually covered in introductory language classes.

When I was traveling around Europe, I found that I could get by surprisingly easy in big cities by speaking only English.  That changed, however, when I got sick.

Getting to the hospital was difficult enough with a cab driver who spoke no English and myself knowing no German.  I was lucky at the hospital, though, because when I came in speaking English, they quickly found a doctor who knew enough English to communicate with me.

If I’d been in a small town instead of the big city of Berlin, things could have been very different.  Health issues make small language problems into big language problems.

Have you ever had communication problems with a doctor?  How did you handle it?

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