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Language, Culture, and Healthcare


Notably, culture and language are essential elements for providing high-quality healthcare. The continuous globalization and migration movements have influenced the increase in patients with various cultural and ethnic minority backgrounds (Schouten et al., 2020). Krystallidou et al. (2021) emphasize that migration increased linguistic and cultural variety. Essentially, healthcare professionals and patients do not necessarily have a common language in which they are both equally competent. Effective communication during medical interaction is limited when linguistic disharmony between patients and healthcare professionals is not adequately handled (Krystallidou et al., 2021). Consequently, language and cultural differences can result in poor clinical outcomes, decreased patients and healthcare providers’ engagement and satisfaction, and potentially endanger safety and wellbeing. Therefore, it is crucial to mitigate the cultural and language challenges to facilitate communication between healthcare practitioners and patients and enhance healthcare quality.

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Communication in Language Discordant Settings

Without a doubt, efficient interpersonal communication is a significant quality indication in the healthcare system. Partida (2012) suggests that a common language between patients and healthcare specialists allows for to collection of credible and precise information for diagnoses, explains the treatment plans better, enables comprehension and cooperative decision-making processes between both sides. When patients and health providers do not share a common language, the consequences of miscommunication are evident. Identifying the considerable risks of inadequate relations and communications, and to an even more considerable extent with immigrant communities, and implementing strategies to avoid misunderstandings can help to improve health communications (Partida, 2012). Partida (2012) acknowledges that routine activities such as teach-back approaches to confirm patients’ comprehension or reaffirm interpretation are crucial in healthcare. Consequently, specific standards can encourage the use of simplified descriptions and explanations regularly and consistently.

Notably, one of the critical concerns is ensuring efficient dialogue in discordant language discussions. Krystallidou et al. (2021) state that the International Association for Communication in Healthcare, briefly EACH, is responsible for addressing the challenges for patients and healthcare providers caused by the complexities of discordant language communication in healthcare. Hence, since its founding, EACH has worked to foster cooperation between education and research in the patient treatment field, promoting a more collaborative and relationship-centered approach directed at collective decision-making and responsibility (Krystallidou et al., 2021). Gasiorek and van de Poel (2018) inform that healthcare workers should be trained in cross-cultural competence. Hence, they will be able to provide proper care for patients from different cultural backgrounds. The training should include detailed instructions on communicating with patients and developing language skills. Importantly, the methods of providing efficient communication include a few fundamental techniques that will be discussed further.

Assessing Language Proficiency

First, it is vital to assess language proficiency in discordant healthcare settings. According to Krystallidou et al. (2021), healthcare institutions need to develop rules that accommodate linguistic variety and cultural awareness and focus more on training both healthcare workers and patients on the significance of achieving comprehension in language discordant interactions. Additionally, healthcare organizations need to provide information on the possible hazards to the quality of healthcare delivery if language obstacles are not successfully addressed, as well as implement evidence-based systems that allow healthcare staff to evaluate their own and patients’ linguistic competence. Thus, language proficiency testing is a key step in ensuring adequate healthcare.

Language Support

Secondly, healthcare professionals can seek language supports to improve the quality of communication. Krystallidou et al. (2021) claim that mutual comprehension and two-way dialogue, rather than one-way information exchange from the healthcare provider to the patient, should be implemented universally, transcending geographical limits and contextual restrictions and influencing decision makers’ behaviors. Essentially, healthcare professionals should decide concerning language support and assistance after discussing the issues with the healthcare team and, notably, considering the patient’s and family members’ preferences.

Consequently, a patient’s involvement in care should be improved; assessing individual needs and expectations is vital. The types of language support include technological advancements, for instance, multilingual healthcare applications, various translation technologies, such as Google Translate and Skype Translate, and services offered by professional and informal interpreters (Krystallidou et al., 2021). Professional interpreters include trained and certified translators, while informal involve patients’ family members and bilingual healthcare workers. Remote communication technologies, such as telephone, Skype, and video links, can be used to assist in translation. In order to overcome the language gap in intercultural health communication, digital translation technologies and multilingual eHealth applications have been created (Schouten et al., 2020). Thus, health institutions should provide training on the use of various options and technologies to improve healthcare professionals’ skills.

Integrated Language Support Solutions

Significantly, having professional interpreters as a part of the healthcare team is a brilliant solution to improve communication and remove language challenges. Moreover, professional interpreters will empower the team and improve consultations dramatically. Nevertheless, Krystallidou et al. (2021) recommend integrating various language support solutions. For example, healthcare providers can use a few sources of interpretation. Family members as informal interpreters may help better understand patients’ needs and enhance the accuracy of the provided information. Krystallidou et al. (2021) state that the integration of various language support solutions “can create the conditions for deeper understanding in language discordant HCP-patient encounters while promoting patient and family participation in the decision-making process” (p. 514). Thus, healthcare professionals will overcome language barriers more efficiently by combining both interpretation sources.

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Cultural Differences

In addition to language challenges, healthcare professionals face cultural differences. In order to improve intercultural health communication and treatment, both linguistic and cultural challenges must be resolved. Schouten et al. (2020) suggest that it is frequently more challenging to develop appropriate health communication with migrants and ethnic minorities due to cultural obstacles. There has been a continuous growth in creating and promoting culturally sensitive treatments and training to optimize intercultural health communication and, ultimately, quality of care for migrant and ethnic minority patients (Schouten et al., 2020). Essentially, in order to minimize cultural obstacles in international health communication, healthcare professionals demand family-centered communication and care. Family members assist in making appropriate treatment decisions tailored to the patient’s culture and preferences (Schouten et al., 2020). Thus, active engagement of patients’ family members is a vital approach for overcoming the cultural barrier.


To conclude, addressing language and cultural differences is crucial for improving healthcare quality. Healthcare professionals should attend cross-cultural training to receive information on solving the issues and improving communication with patients from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Nowadays, there are various solutions available to enhance healthcare communication, such as the services of professional interpreters, various technological applications, and translation technologies. Therefore, healthcare professionals should integrate different methods, encourage active patients’ and patients’ family members’ participation to manage the language and cultural differences, and enhance the quality of communication and decision-making processes.


Gasiorek, J., & van de Poel, K. (2018). Language-specific skills in intercultural healthcare communication: Comparing perceived preparedness and skills in nurses’ first and second languages. Nurse Education Today, 61, 54–59. Web.

Krystallidou, D., Langewitz, W., & van den Muijsenbergh, M. (2021). Multilingual healthcare communication: Stumbling blocks, solutions, recommendations. Patient Education and Counseling, 104(3), 512–516. Web.

Partida, Y. (2012). Language and health care. Diabetes Spectrum, 25(1), 19–22. Web.

Schouten, B. C., Cox, A., Duran, G., Kerremans, K., Banning, L. K., Lahdidioui, A., van den Muijsenbergh, M., Schinkeli, S., Suurmond, J., Zendedel, R., and Krystallidou, D. (2020). Mitigating language and cultural barriers in healthcare communication: Toward a holistic approach. Patient Education and Counseling, 103(12), 2604-2608. Web.

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