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The language barrier : the overlooked challenge to equitable health care : Emerging Public Health Practitioner Awards

  • Journal Title: South African Health Review
  • Volume: Volume
  • Issue: 
  • Publication Date: 2012 / 2013
  • Pages: 189  - 195
  • Authors:  Nadia Hussey;
  • ISSN: 10251715
  • Abstract:  This chapter examines the effects of language barriers on the access of patients and communities to quality health care. It also looks at communication challenges experienced by health professionals that provide this care. Using a case study of a rural hospital, the chapter highlights some of the challenges posed by the language barrier and explores current methods that English-speaking health professionals at this hospital use to overcome these difficulties.
    The case study findings indicate that the language barrier decreases work efficiency and the provision of holistic treatment. It makes communication time consuming, which increases frustration levels and decreases empathy, approachability and confidentiality. Current methods for overcoming problems include the use of untrained and ineffective interpreters - usually overworked nurses; linguistic codeswitching; and the use of a selection of key isiXhosa vocabulary. These methods have many drawbacks and are not suitable or sustainable.
    Recommendations for improving communication include the promotion of a culture of multilingualism, which includes language education as a part of professional development and the employment of trained interpreters. For multilingualism to occur, more research needs to be conducted, and the political will to address this problem must be demonstrated. Overcoming the language barrier needs to be prioritised and commitment must be made to implementing strategies that provide a multilingual patient base with a multilingual healthcare service.
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