The Importance of Language Skills in Hospitals


A recent article in The London Evening Standard revealed the impressive figures of London’s hospital spending on interpreters.  Some hospitals, like The London NHS Trust, spend up to £2.2 million on translators and interpreters per year.  In all, the total sum of spending in London hospitals reaches £15 billion.

If the amount of money invested in interpreters is so important, it is because hospitals must deal with people from different nationalities that do not understand or speak English very well.  Indeed, the UK’s capital city gathers a notable number of communities speaking a mixture of 140 different languages.

Immigrants may know how to speak English but vocabulary related to the medical field is very specific and lends itself to more miscommunication.  The difference between hospitals and other public institutions is that peoples’ lives are at stake, so misunderstandings can be particularly risky.

It is crucial therefore to pay attention to language in fostering a trustful and comprehensible relationship between medical staff and both patients and family members.  The choice of words used is highly important in order to avoid confusion and to calm and ease families’ minds.

As a result, interpreters are essential in providing real assistance to patients and families.  By speaking the patients’ native language, they can help to create a trustful and calmer atmosphere in the normally stressful situation of hospitalisation.  This is even more important when it comes to announcing bad news as the choice of words is essential in order to relay information without misunderstanding and offer the most effective support to the patient and/or family members.

Hospital administration is also an important factor as patients and families must fill in forms not only regarding social security but also regarding previous illnesses, allergies and medical issues.  Terms must be very specific and technical so immigrants and foreigners might have some difficulties understanding it all and may therefore struggle to complete the forms correctly or completely which can lead to confusion and even medical mistakes.

Developing a strong set of language skills through language training courses can help medical and hospital employees provide better care and support for international patients and improved management of families.  By speaking to their patients in their native language doctors can create a trust that will help them to more effectively deal with their health questions and problems.

Medical staff should not only have access to interpreters but also be able to speak some of the main languages that go through the hospitals in order to reassure the patient and handle the situation in a better way.  From a practical perspective, it can save time and money and also help to decrease the number of interpreters that hospitals pay for. Language training courses can help to make a difference in hospitals and save more lives.

Source: Communicaid