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The aim of this essay is to understand language barriers and miscommunication that may occur in a healthcare setting between patients and healthcare practitioners, especially where at least one of the speakers is using a second (weaker) language.
It is important that healthcare professionals understand that the key to good holistic care is communication, particularly since patients require information and reassurance regarding their care.  Communication is something we do every day, it is the process of receiving and sending messages between two or more people.  It is not just talking to each other that defines communication, but it is how we respond to each other in many different ways (Langs,1983).  There are many varied examples of communication, such as, reading, singing, talking, writing and body language.  In order for communication to be effective, it first needs to be established as well as maintained. In terms of a healthcare setting, this can be done during an assessment when a patient arrives at the practice. Stuart and Sundeen (1995), state that communication can either create barriers and this is the case as it is argued that  communication barriers can prevent effective and appropriate care being provided to patients however they also debate that it may aid in the development of a therapeutic relationship.
In some instances, by simply observing an individual, many problems which can hinder communication are able to be discovered.  If the patient has any visual impairments, physical disability or illness, observation can be used to determine which language is being used or the way the patient is able to communicate with the healthcare professional, as any of the issues stated could control the way the individual is able to communicate.
Within our general practices, individuals of all nationalities deserve the best care possible.  However, language barriers and the misunderstanding between individuals it proposes puts a restraint on patient care. Miscommunication in any instance could lead to potential issues however within the health care sector miscommunication may result in lower patient satisfaction scores, illnesses or could even be life-threatening when streaks of communication are crossed. Hence, one of the most important tools that we use to provide outstanding patient care as well as improve patient satisfaction is communication.
 
Around 9 out of 100 individuals have limited English proficiency.  It is believed that there are approximately 6000 languages spoken in the world.  When wandering around in modern Britain, the South East to be precise, most of these languages are apparent. More so when you walk into any large NHS Trust in the city we reside in.  There are many challenges that the multicultural and multilingual world brings. The question is, if we struggle to make sense of each other’s worlds, how do we work together as well as support each other.
Many people from different cultures and backgrounds walk through the doors of general practices in London every day.  I am currently training in a busy North London practice, and whilst on placement I observed many encounters where language barriers became an obstacle.  The English language barrier in comparison to other native languages has made it difficult for healthcare professionals to perform their job to their fullest potential. This subsequently leads to unnecessary mistakes in the Practice of Medicine due to miscommunications because of the differences in language.
But how can we optimize the care and information they receive?
Language and cultural differences are the main communication barriers in which I have observed within General Practices, where patients and healthcare professionals not speaking the same language is something that has now become an occurrence. This is despite effective communication with patients in primary care being an essential part of the planning and delivery of appropriate high-quality and safe patient care.
Overtime there has been an increase in not only the number of migrant patients however also in the staff who are foreign-trained. Consequently, the likelihood of communication errors rises as English may be a second language in which some still aren’t proficient in and when either the healthcare practitioner or patient attempt to communicate with each other on this basis, there is likely to be misinterpretations or confusion in what they are trying to put across. In addition, methodically there is limited research into this that addresses this issue.
There is a rise in number of foreign-trained members of staff and patients, which means that errors in communication between patients and healthcare staff when a second language is spoken between one or both are increasingly likely. Hiring an interpreter who can speak the patient’s language as well as aid the healthcare professional in making the appropriate choices towards making the individual better, can help prevent fatal mistakes from occurring.  As simple as this solution may sound, many general practices have no access to an interpreter and healthcare professionals have little training in dealing with people of a different language. On the other hand, a problem which arises with the use of interpreters is that patients tend to have a concern with indirect communication with the health professional. Vital information that could significantly affect the diagnosis may be omitted as the patient does not feel comfortable disclosing this with the interpreter. Even with an interpreter, there is still a large chance that there could be misinformation between the healthcare professional and patient, missing key information that could endanger the life of the patient.
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