Canadian Expats

Language and Cultural Challenges for Expatriate Medical Care

There are many challenges for expats who live in foreign countries. From packing to relocating and making friends, expats will have to navigate their way through it. Most of the time, after a few bumps on the road, they’re successful in establishing a routine in an expat destination. However, when it comes to their healthcare, expats face language and cultural challenges in medical care.

This article will explore the challenges of language and cultural barriers in medical care for expats.

Some expats who live in destinations they are not familiar with experience distinct language and cultural barriers in medical care. During a medical emergency or even routine checkup, language barriers may lead to miscommunication between medical professionals and patients. Not only does it reduces both of their satisfaction, but it also decreases the quality of healthcare delivery and the safety of patients.

Barriers in Medical Care

Language and Cultural Barriers in Medical Care for Medical Professionals

As the key cause of miscommunication between the medical profession and patients is the language barrier, it also negatively impacts the hospital staff. The language barrier is perceived to be a source of workplace stress and trumps the opportunity for a high-quality healthcare service.

A study published by the Oman Medical Journal indicates that language barriers contribute to healthcare professionals’ lack of understanding of patients’ situation, delayed treatments or misdiagnoses, poor patient assessment, and incomplete prescribed treatment.

Barriers in Medical Care

Language and Cultural Barriers in Medical Care for Expats

On the other hand, if you are an expat who is not familiar with the local language in the expat destination, you may be less satisfied with the country’s healthcare. You may even have less access to the usual sources of healthcare. Even if you’re an expat with a language barrier and have access to healthcare, you may feel less satisfied with the services. It is because you may lack an understanding of the diagnosis and possibly an increase in medical complications.

Cultural and language barriers in medical care can lead to:

  • Delays in receiving care
  • Unmet health requirements
  • Inability to get preventive services
  • Financial strain
  • Preventable hospitalizations

However, there are few tips to overcome these barriers in healthcare.

Barriers in Medical Care

Be a parrot with your doctor

If you are an expat who is unfamiliar with the local language, make sure you ‘parrot back’ whatever you understood from your doctor. You can avoid communication barriers in healthcare when you understand everything your doctor has explained to you. This tip also helps you and your doctor to understand that you have processed the information. Plus, it also allows you to uncover anything you have missed or misinterpreted, and your doctor can easily go back over that aspect again for you. You may want to ask for a translator if your doctor doesn’t speak your language.

Use simpler terms to communicate.

Most of the time, it is not easy to understand medical terms. In certain scenarios, it can get overwhelming to process all the information. You can ask your doctor to help you understand in clear, simple language and words. It will also help both sides trust, and you will be able to adhere to what your doctor says.

Listen and understand

Listening plays a huge part in communication. Not only should patients listen to healthcare professionals, but it should be vice versa as well. When both sides pay attention, it will be easier for expats to get support and advice. Furthermore, expats will feel more comfortable to express fears and concerns.

As for medical professionals, listening will allow the opportunity to gather all information needed to provide the best service and care possible. Furthermore, active listening makes patients more receptive to treatment.

Summary for Expats

Challenges of cultural and language barriers in medical care are common. However, there are many ways to make the process easier. Expats who get comprehensive international health insurance have access to a wide network of medical professionals. It means they may get to choose the doctor and hospital they are comfortable with, depending on where they live. Most international health insurance providers also have a multilingual emergency helpline to help you get the right treatment.