Hospital stays can be overwhelming for patients. A language barrier complicates things even more.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a report showing language barriers between patients and providers can have negative effects. Specifically, with long-term conditions like heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, language barriers are tied to higher hospital return rates.
The research focused on patients at Canadian hospitals who spoke little English. They were more likely than patients fluent in English to return to the emergency department within a month. They also were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital, even three months out from their first stay.
Among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, there was a higher rate of hospital readmission among non-English speakers: 16% versus nearly 12% for English speakers. There was no significant difference for patients with more straightforward, shorter-term ailments. Those with a broken hip or pneumonia had similar return rates, regardless of English proficiency.
Other reports have found that hospital staff often do not use professional interpreters or translation services available to them. Rather, most rely on patients’ relatives who are with them during or after the examination. But this is problematic because family members who are unfamiliar with medical terminology may not convey important information correctly, especially during a period of stress.
If you ever face this situation, make sure you request professional translation. It may mean the difference between being ill and getting better.