Imagine you visit a doctor in a far-off land with a different language. Although you have an interpreter, the doctor barely looks at you — instead relaying all information through the interpreter. You feel extra, ignored. If anything, you are building a relationship with the interpreter, not the doctor.
And that’s not good, as VJ Periyakoil, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine, points out in the video above. “Our goal is to talk with the patient, through the interpreter, not talk about the patient, to the interpreter,” she says.
The video is part of the Stanford Cross Cultural Medicine Microlecture Series, a series of very short talks (about one to five minutes) that aims to bridge the growing communication gap between doctors and their patients as the U.S. population becomes older and more diverse. There are already 11 million Americans that are nonliterate in English and 25 million with only limited English proficiency.
Are doctors prepared?
These talks highlight key issues in cross-cultural encounters, including a range of practice tips for health professionals provided by experienced medical interpreters and from Periyakoil. The videos typically end with a take-home message listing the problem and solution — making it easy to quickly learn the concept. Periyakoil and her colleagues hope that health professionals will use the series as a tool to reflect on their own practice.
Microlecture 4, which is posted above, emphasizes the importance of talking directly to the patient even when working with a medical interpreter. Patients with limited English proficiency have the right to complete health-care information, as well as the right to the therapeutic bond between every doctor and patient.
There are currently 16 microlectures posted on the website, but many more are on their way. A total of 44 microlectures have been made, and two new ones are being released each week. The lectures also build off recommendations developed in a paper on ethnogeriatrics by the American Geriatrics Society.
Jennifer Huber, PhD, is a science writer with extensive technical communications experience as an academic research scientist, freelance science journalist, and writing instructor.