Title

Addressing language barriers to healthcare in India

Authors

Lalit Narayan

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

1-1-2013

Journal

National Medical Journal of India

Volume

26

Issue

4

Abstract

In spite of a growing recognition of the importance of doctor- patient communication, the issue of language barriers to healthcare has received very little attention in India. The Indian population speaks over 22 major languages with English used as the lingua franca for biomedicine. Large-scale internal migration has meant that health workers are encountering increasing instances of language discordance within clinical settings. Research done predominantly in the West has shown language discordance to significantly affect access to care, cause problems of comprehension and adherence, and decrease the satisfaction and quality of care. Addressing language barriers to healthcare in India requires a stronger political commitment to providing non-discriminatory health services, especially to vulnerable groups such as illiterate migrant workers. Research will have to address three broad areas: the ways in which language barriers affect health and healthcare, the efficacy of interventions to overcome language barriers, and the costs of language barriers and efforts to overcome them. There is a need to address such barriers in health worker education and clinical practice. Proven strategies such as hiring multilingual healthcare workers, providing language training to health providers, employing in situ translators or using telephone interpretation services will have to be evaluated for their appropriateness to the Indian context. Internet-based initiatives, the proliferation of mobile phones and recent advances in machine translation promise to contribute to the solution. © The National Medical Journal of India 2013.

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