;   Medical Translation Insight: Cross-cultural medicine - is healthcare making progress? - ForeignExchange Translations

Cross-cultural medicine - is healthcare making progress?It's 2011, and there is an increasing awareness that a number of populations are not getting enough services from health systems in the United States, in Canada, and elsewhere. Patients who do not share the host country's culture and official languages are one of these underserved groups.

It was interesting to come across an article that made the point that cultural miscommunication and differences in attitudes about health care interfere with good health care for these patients as much as language barriers.

Cross-cultural Medicine - A decade later [PDF link] makes the point that health care providers need to be bi-cultural, not just bilingual. Examples given include:

Latino women are often reluctant to reveal personal or private problems if their children are used to interpret.
And how the notion of "informed consent" may be totally foreign:
Latinos feel they should agree with physicians out of politeness and respect, even when they really disagree or do not understand the issues involved.
There are, of course, linguistic challenges that are noted as well:
In most Spanish-speaking countries, canilla means shinbone... except in certain parts of Mexico where the word means wrist."
The good news is that these are all great insights. The bad news: The article is based on speeches given in 1991!

It's now 20+ years later, and we are still talking about how translation is a hot topic in healthcare settings and how patients at risk due to lack of translations.

Has anything really changed?

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  1. Mary Shillue said...
    I had an experience with cross-cultural medicine; luckily it was not serious. Early on in my time living in Moscow, I was hospitalized for norovirus/food poisoning. Distracted by my illness, I wasn't thinking very clearly, so when the nurse asked me to stick out my tongue, I weakly replied "English" (As a language student I was most familiar with the word язык meaning "language" rather than "tongue") She paused, then stuck out her tongue and I got the message. Now it's just a funny story, but the truth is, I didn't have much of a clue what was happening to me. It was a little scary. I didn't know medical terminology in Russian. I did pick up a few words during that visit from things I overheard. For example, I learned "ultrasound" is a cognate. A learning experience, but one I am not eager to repeat!
    Carlos said...
    Luckily I never have had such an experience myself but I just find it truly amazing that the language and translation industry have come a long way since 1991, but somehow has left medical translation behind. Yes, it is a question of culture too but I think that the medical idustry is so powerful and innovative that you have to agree on a universal language, eventually. Let's all hope this will be soon!

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