Social Networks Trends for Reducing Language Barriers


Current trends toward globalization and integration have turned the modern world into a single interconnected organism. As borders become more open and nearly transparent, health care professionals face new challenges related to providing services to people who move from foreign countries in their efforts to seek medical care abroad. There are numerous reasons for crossing the borders when seeking medical care, such as the desire to find cheaper treatment or more comfortable hospital conditions, or to secure better quality services in the destination countries (Helble 68). Still, in most cases, the challenge of providing non-residents with health care services is accompanied by the language barrier problem.

Sometimes, a similar issue can emerge even when treating the residents of a specific country. It is especially acute in case of countries settled with people with various ethnic backgrounds or when delivering aid to illegal immigrants. Another challenge is the problem of different dialects, which is common to the English, German, Italian, and Chinese languages. Regardless of the causes leading to the language barrier, it is critical to find the paths toward overcoming it in order to properly treat patients and to cope better with their health concerns. The central objective of this article is to investigate trends in global social networks aiming to reduce language barriers in global health systems. The research will focus on developments such as the globalization of the health care sector, i.e., employing professionals with international working experience or those that come from abroad; involving interpreters in the process of obtaining medical data and treating patients; training health care professionals on cultural competence; implementing bicultural and bilingual services; and using the newest technologies while delivering medical aid. A primary emphasis will be made on studying the effectiveness of the trends and methods mentioned above toward reducing or even lifting language barriers.

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The Globalization of the Health care Sector

As the world experiences a growing trend toward globalization, crossing borders has become less complicated. This trend stimulated the international movement of not only patients but also of doctors. Reasons for choosing to work abroad are different, varying from the desire to increase income—that is, seeking economic benefits—to the urge to share experiences and to help people in countries with a delayed development in the health care sector, particularly those countries that lack skilled health care professionals.

Besides sharing international experience and shifting health care services to a higher level, employing doctors from abroad is closely connected to solving the issue of language barriers. Several reasons contribute to the implementation of similar initiatives. First, such measures imply the broadening of the language base in hospitals, meaning that new doctors bring not only their practical skills but also their knowledge of languages that can aid in turning hospital units into multilingual environments. Moreover, because doctors bring different ethnic backgrounds, the possibility of integrating dialects in a health care unit is also significant. Even though dialectical tensions can be severe from both the occupational perspective and regarding cooperation on a health care team (Kay, Glass, and Evans 203), they are the source of positive change in delivering medical aid to patients experiencing similar communication problems and coming from a similar background.

These days, international initiatives aimed at reducing language barriers and exchanging experiences in the health care sector are being launched. One example of such a movement is Doctors Without Borders (MSF). One of its objectives is to promote the use of standardized languages in health care sectors to elevate the issue of language barriers among doctors and to integrate dialectal tribes of health care professionals in the system (Redfield 210; Institute for Alternative Futures 34). At the same time, however, this contributes to a better understanding of language minorities. The patients benefit as well, enjoying the advantages of the establishment that unites doctors with different lingual and ethnic background within a single hospital unit. That said, even though the staff is motivated to switch to a standardized language when coping with work-related staff, they still preserve their knowledge of other languages and can help patients with specific communication needs.

Involving Interpreters in the Process of Treating Patients

Employing hospital-based interpreters who are involved in collecting medical information and treating patients has recently become a popular trend. It is one of the most effective steps for improving the quality of health care services and for handling the challenge of language barriers. Employing an interpreter or even several interpreters is also easier—and more economically beneficial than hiring multilingual doctors or attracting them from abroad. However, there are some critical requirements to follow. First, the level of the interpreter’s language knowledge should be adequate. It might sound awkward, but there are numerous instances of interpreter incompetence leading to complications and even deaths. Moreover, candidates should have some sort of a medical background and some experience working with doctors and patients, because the lack of that specific background can prove to be a kind of incompetence that potentially brings negative consequences.

In general, they should be medical interpreters, i.e., trained in medical patterns of translation, and their compliance with specific protocol and processes should be assessed prior to being put in front of patients to enhance their communication with the health care organization staff (Regenstein 358).That said, the primary requirement to keep in mind is that the interpreter’s services should lift the language barriers and make communication between people who speak different languages much more manageable (Mayberry et al. 25). Finally, when choosing to hire interpreters, it is vital to guarantee that they are always ready to carry out their occupational duties without regard to time of day and severity of a case; this will ensure the patient’s safety and well being. Furthermore, the role of interpreters in lifting the language barrier to deliver better health care services extends to translating prescriptions and making sense of laboratory test results, so as to guarantee adequate and accurate post-admission treatment and recovery (Institute for Alternative Futures 27).

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In summary, except for reducing delays in communication and making interactions more productive, employing an interpreter brings numerous other advantages to a hospital setting. For example, an interpreter may improve the image of a hospital, highlighting its intense interest in granting equal access to superior health care services to everyone, without regard to ethnic and language background. However, there remain some disadvantages, such as the necessity of waiting for interpreters while they are working with other patients; designing new appointments around the involvement of interpretation services; developing flexible schedules; risking inadequate translations; and, ensuring patient satisfaction with the quality of interpretation services as well as their efficiency in delivering medical aid (Institute of Assets and Social Policy 2,4; Jacobs et al. 868).

Creating Bicultural and Bilingual Environment in a Hospital Setting

Establishing a bicultural and bilingual environment is an extension of the globalization of the health care sector; however, there are also health care providers who decide to create such an environment due to the make-up of a population in a particular districts or city. That said, this trend refers to employing nurses and doctors who know two languages and are familiar with two cultures, or employing an equal number of staff who belong to different cultures. The primary idea is to provide patients with adequate care in accordance with their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The combination of cultures and languages can be different based on any local population; for example, it may include English-Chinese, English-Spanish, Spanish-Italian, English-German, and any other variety of mergers.

Creating bilingual environments is more effective for lifting language barriers than employing professional interpreters or staff from abroad, especially if hospital management knows there is a constant flow of patients representing two cultures or speaking two languages (Institute of Assets and Social Policy 5). The rationale behind this statement is the fact that the level of patient satisfaction is higher when doctors and nurses are native speakers and no interpreters are involved because people tend to be more open with bilingual specialists than with professional interpreters. Moreover, this decreases the risk of an incompetent translation and possibly improves the quality health care services delivered (Georgetown Health Policy Institute par. 8). In addition, unlike interpreters, a native speaker, in most cases, is familiar with varying dialects. Thus, bilingual and bicultural medical aid is another method used for coping with the problem of misunderstanding due to dialect confusion.

Training Health care Professionals on Cultural Competence

It is paramount to note that employing foreign doctors and professional interpreters as well as creating a bilingual and bicultural environment in a health care unit are trends related to verbal communication. Even though a language barrier is closely connected to verbal activities, non-verbal communication should also be addressed to reduce this barrier.

One of the trends established in health care institutions is training staff toward becoming a culturally competent organization. There are several reasons to aspire toward cultural competence. First, such heath care units recognize the significance of a patient’s linguistic background and seek to improve communication to deliver appropriate medical aid (Georgetown Health Policy Institute par. 2). Creating bilingual and bicultural, or multilingual and multicultural, environments is one aspect among many that define a culturally competent organization.

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Second, cultural competence implies non-verbal communication: it means that every nurse or doctor should be familiar with non-verbal signs and signals that align appropriately with particular symptoms. Even if it is impossible to understand a patient or to provide interpreter services, non-verbal signs contribute to the ability to deliver vital information. In addition, culturally competent professionals are more effective in communication because patients are more open with them and tend to trust them more (Institute of Assets and Social Policy 1).

Finally, it is vital to note that cultural competence is paramount for delivering treatment because some cultures and religions do not recognize invasive procedures. In cases where it is impossible to communicate verbally with a patient, it is important to know which steps are allowed by their culture or religion (Institute for Alternative Futures 17). That said, although cultural competence does not fully handle the problem of language barriers, it significantly diminishes the negative consequences of the inability to communicate, and it improves health care provider performance and increases patient satisfaction with the services.

Using the Newest Technologies in Delivering Medical Aid

One recent trend in providing health care services is the implementation of new technologies into health care unit operations. Even though their primary objective is to increase productivity and patient satisfaction, and to improve quality of delivered services, it is also popular to exploit technology with the aim of lifting the language barrier.

There are several reasons for implementing the newest technologies into the communication realm. First, some technological devices prove less expensive than employing professional interpreters or foreign doctors or investing in creating a multilingual environment. Of course, this measure does require time and money, but expenditures are short-term, often paying for themselves over time, while paying salaries to interpreters is a constant and ongoing expense. In addition, using the newest technologies diminishes the risks of inadequate interpretation or problems pertaining to the human factor. Furthermore, operation of new software systems is continuous regardless of the time of day and can be used for gathering data and for treating several patients at once, which is impossible in the case where only one interpreter is hired, or when doctors and nurses have limited knowledge of languages. Finally, a primary positive feature of technological innovations is the possibility of storing collected information for later use, which could prove beneficial for treating patients more effectively.

When discussing the use of new technologies for handling the challenge of misunderstandings and language barriers, it is paramount to investigate the peculiarities of their operation. Software is designed to simplify the process of information collection and to eliminate the risk of errors. In most cases, software is developed in different languages and feature visual icons that hint at symptoms and their severity (Baum 2). In addition, these applications have built-in translators, meaning that once a patient has filled out a form using software, that data is transferred to a doctor. The most significant detail is that both patient and doctor choose the language with which they are most comfortable. Most software programs offer up to twenty languages and accurate medical translation (Baum, 20).The only requirement for a health care organization is to choose the appropriate application and then invest in implementing it.

Another significant advantage of introducing the newest technologies is the fact that unlike professional interpreters and even native speaking staff, applications can cope with the problem of different dialects. That is, the inclusion of some popular regional dialects can easily be built into dictionaries to get around tricky verbal differences inherent to dialect in speech (Baum 1). Regardless of how a word or dialect sounds from person to person, a speaker would likely use the same written language and common words.

As the world and the health care sector become increasingly interconnected, patients are motivated to seek medical aid abroad, making the issue of language barriers in delivering health care services extremely acute. Recently, several trends aimed at enhancing cross-cultural and cross-lingual communication have been established. Some point to a globalization of the health care sector, i.e., employing professionals with international work experience or those that come from abroad; involving interpreters in the process of obtaining medical data and treating patients; training health-care professionals on cultural competence; implementing bicultural and bilingual services; and, using the newest technologies while delivering medical aid.

Effectiveness at reducing the consequences of language barriers varies in accordance with the specifics of the environment and with the people involved in treating patients, as well as the spoken languages. However, it is possible to draw some general conclusions regarding the productivity of each method mentioned above. For example, involving foreign doctors is beneficial because besides the ability to handle the problem of dialects and language barriers, they can also be a source of new experience and skills. Moreover, these doctors can become the foundation of the bilingual or multilingual environment in a hospital unit. Training staff to become more culturally competent is vital for recognizing the significance of languages as well as the importance of non-verbal communication. Employing professional interpreters is also productive, but it is less efficient than creating multilingual environments and has several other drawbacks, such as the risk of inadequate interpretation and a lack of competence. Finally, there is a trend toward implementing the newest technologies aimed at lifting language barriers, where the only disadvantage is the high financial investment required to implement them.

Comparing the effectiveness of methods used to reduce the linguistic gap, it can be said that creating bilingual or multilingual environments and implementing the newest technologies are the most appropriate paths. The rationale for that lies in the fact that both methods motivate patients to be more open while offering initial information about symptoms and the methods reduce the risk of inadequate interpretation and miscommunication.

References

Baum, Stephanie. Which Mobile Health Innovations Are Helping To Reduce Language Barriers in Health Care? 2014. Web.

Georgetown Health Policy Institute. Cultural Competence in Health Care: Is it Important for People with Chronic Disease? 2004. Web.

Helble, Matthias. “The Movement of Patients Across Borders: Challenges and Opportunities for Public Health.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 89 (2011): 68-72. who.int. Web.

Institute for Alternative Futures. Health and Health Care in 2032: Report from the RWJF Futures Symposium. 2012. Web.

Institute of Assets and Social Policy. Improving Quality and Performance: Cultural Competence and Workforce Diversity Strategies. 2016. Web.

Jacobs, Elizabeth, Donald S. Shepard, Jose A. Suaya, and Esta-Lee Stone. “Overcoming Language Barriers in Health Care: Costs and Benefits of Interpreter Services.” American Journal of Public Health 94.5 (2004): 866-869. Print.

Kay, Kate, Nel Glass, and Alicia Evans. “Reconceptualizing Manual Handling: Foundations for Practical Change.” Journal of Nursing Education and Practice 2.3 (2012): 203-212. ResearchGate. Web.

Mayberry, Robert, David A. Nicewander, Huanying Qin, and David J. Ballard. “Improving Quality and Reducing Inequalities: A Challenge in Achieving Best Care.” World Hospitals and Health Services: The Official Journal of the International Hospital Federation 44.3 (2008): 16-31. Print.

Redfield, Peter. Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders. Los Angeles, California: university of California Press, 2013. Print.

Regenstein, Marsha. “Measuring and Improving the Quality of Hospital Language Services: Insights from the Speaking Together Collaborative.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 22.2 (2007): 356-359.

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