Wetenschap - 11 januari 1996

Misunderstandings between physicians and foreign patients

Misunderstandings between physicians and foreign patients

Language and cultural differences are the two main reasons for communication problems between patients and health care workers. Furthermore, these factors tend to reinforce one another. These are the major findings of a ministerial working group on policy issues concerning information services for patients.

In a consultation with a foreign patient physicians often restrict themselves to medical affairs. They try to explain the diagnosis in simple terms, but fail to check whether the patient really understands what it is all about. On the other hand, patients are often shy and silent. They rarely ask questions, but often expect immediate relief of their problems. In the end the physician wonders why the patient did not understand the information, and the patient does not understand why the doctor did not take more care.

The conclusions of the working group are published in a brochure, which also contains recommendations for health care workers on how to cope with cultural differences, how to improve their communication abilities and how and when to call in an interpreter. According to the authors it is striking that services of interpreters are rarely used, although health care workers can make free use of the services of six centres of interpreters located throughout the Netherlands.