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Healthcare Providers: Tips on Working With LEP Patients

Healthcare Annie Pagano on Mar 10, 2016 1:00:00 PM

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From Australia’s Centre for Culture Ethnicity & Health here are tips for healthcare workers when you must communicate with a patient who has limited knowledge of English.

When possible, gather some background information about the patient’s culture. There are many websites dedicated to briefly describing the major cultures in the world.

  1. Be aware that even simple words and phrases may vary in meaning across cultures. For example, sometimes the word yes doesn’t mean “I agree.” In some cultures yes means “I heard you” or “I understand what you’re saying.” To avoid problems, try explaining things in more than one way.

  2. Give the patient time. When you talk to someone from a different culture or with limited English they may have to mentally translate what you say into their first language, form a response in their native language and then translate their response back into English for you. That’s a lot to do. It takes time.

  3. Don’t assume that if the patient is proficient in speaking English that she is proficient in understanding English. Use plain English. Avoid idioms and slang. Make only one major point at a time.

  4. Realize the patient may have different health beliefs. The patient may have different ideas than you do about what causes illness, how to prevent disease and what proper treatment should be. Ask the patient for his or her preferences rather than assuming what they might prefer.

  5. Remember your job is to listen and observe as much as it is to speak. Give the patient your full attention. Observe both verbal and non-verbal language. Body language does differ between cultures. Try not to finish the patient’s sentences. And be comfortable with silences and long pauses.

If communication proves to be too difficult with the patient’s limited knowledge of English, ask them if they would prefer to use a professional interpreter (click here for more information on the benefits of interpreters in healthcare setting). An interpreter will facilitate communication between two parties while remaining unbiased and confidential. What else have you learned about communicating with people in English when they are not proficient English speakers? Send us your feedback.