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Tips for Dealing with Language Barriers with Patients

Concorde Staff
Concorde Staff
Updated April 12, 2022. The information contained in this blog is current and accurate as of this date.

Health care providers diagnose and treat patients to help them achieve positive outcomes. When patients face obstacles to health care, such as language barriers, organizations can use different methods to ensure they're providing high-quality care to all patients. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (1), there are at least 350 languages spoken in homes across the United States. While English remains the primary language in many regions of the country, approximately 8.3% of U.S. residents speak English less than "very well," according to to Census data (2). It's important for health care facilities, such as hospitals and clinics, to break down language barriers with patients to provide equal and accessible treatment.

When health care providers and patients can understand each other, it leads to a higher quality of care, fewer complications, and improved satisfaction. Patients can explain their symptoms

and pain levels, and providers can use this information to make accurate diagnoses and prescribe treatment. Here are six tips to help hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities manage language barriers with patients to communicate effectively.

Download a translation app

There are many translation apps that can help non-fluent speakers understand words or phrases in another language. It's helpful for health care providers to download a translation app to communicate with patients who speak a different language. These apps work best in situations where the provider and patient can mostly understand each other. For example, if a patient speaks English as a second language but finds it difficult to describe their level of pain, a nurse may use a translation app to understand exactly what the patient is saying.

While there are numerous translation apps available, here are some common ones that can be helpful in health care settings:

· Google Translate: This app supports the translation of words or phrases in over 100 languages. Users can speak, type, or take a photo and receive instant speech translation. It's free to download on both iTunes and Google Play.

· SayHi: The SayHi app allows users to record their voice, and the app translates the word or phrase into a selected language. Users can also type their messages in the app rather than speaking. It's available for free on iTunes and Google Play.

· Microsoft Translator: This app can translate text, voice, and photos into over 70 languages. A split-screen mode allows two people to have a bilingual conversation. It's free on both iTunes and Google Play.

Avoid asking family members to translate

Some patients with limited English proficiency may bring family members or friends to medical appointments to act as their translators. Whenever possible, it's important for providers to avoid asking family members to translate for the patient. The family member or friend may be

unfamiliar with medical terminology, which can lead to inaccurate translations. They may also be uncomfortable sharing the patient's personal information and refrain from speaking openly with the health care provider. In these situations, it's helpful for the health care provider to use another method of communication, such as asking a medical interpreter to translate instead.

Hire bilingual staff

It's important for health care facilities to hire bilingual staff to address disparities for patients who speak other languages. When doctors and nurses are fluent in a second language prevalent in their geographic region, it can help them communicate effectively with many of the patients they're treating. Bilingual providers can speak openly with patients in their preferred language to encourage them to share information, resulting in an accurate medical diagnosis. In addition to providers, it's helpful to hire other bilingual staff, such as receptionists and technicians, who can help patients feel comfortable when they visit the health care facility.

Provide training for staff

It's helpful for bilingual staff members at medical facilities to receive training on how to communicate with patients who speak other languages. The facility can provide classes or programs to teach staff about cultural differences or nonverbal cues that may affect communication. Bilingual staff who don't provide medical services, such as administrative employees, can receive training to learn basic medical terminology so they can help translate for providers when needed. Some facilities may find it beneficial to provide opportunities for bilingual staff to become certified medical interpreters to improve the level and quality of bilingual communication with their patients.

Use medical interpreters

Medical interpreters are professionals who provide translation services for health care providers. These interpreters typically have fluency in two or more languages. They also have knowledge of medical terminology and common health care practices, such as confidentiality regulations. Some medical interpreters can provide services over the phone or through video conferencing to help providers and patients communicate easily. Using medical interpreters can be helpful when a health care facility has a large number of patients with limited English proficiency. These interpreters can translate for providers who regularly treat patients who speak another language.

Create a bicultural environment

While providing communication methods for all patients is vital, it's also important for health care facilities to create a bicultural environment where all patients feel safe and welcome. According to the Health Policy Institute (3), organizations that provide services to meet patients' social and cultural needs can improve health outcomes and eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. Health care facilities can achieve this type of environment by hiring diverse staff members, providing effective training, and seeking to help all employees understand cultural differences so they can collectively contribute to a higher quality of care for patients.

Train to start your career in health care at Concorde

Are you ready to start training for a career in health care and have the opportunity to learn how to help patients receive quality care and treatment? At Concorde, you can be prepared to begin your new career in months, not years, depending on the program you are interested in. Explore the many types of health care degree and diploma programs we offer, from nursing to diagnostics to patient care.(4) Contact us to get more information, schedule a tour, or apply online today.


1. "Census Bureau Reports at Least 350 Languages Spoken in U.S. Homes," U.S. Department of Commerce,

2. "People That Speak English Less Than 'Very Well' in the United States," U.S. Census Bureau,

3. "Cultural Competence in Health Care: Is it important for people with chronic conditions?", Health Policy Institute,

4. Program length varies by program. Program length may be subject to change dependent on transfer credits and course load. Please refer to current course catalog for more information. Concorde does not guarantee admittance, graduation, subsequent employment or salary amount.