Language barriers during a pandemic

A big blow to an equal healthcare system

Trustworthy communication has never been more important than today. We live in a world of globalization, increased migration and fast development of technology. And the fast spread of information about COVID-19 we’ve seen this past year is a great example of our time’s communication challenges.

The risk of language barriers

Language barriers are more current than ever. And studies show that miscommunication between medical professionals and patients can reduce both parties’ satisfaction, decrease the quality of care and decrease the patients safety.

Language barriers, and the lack of access to qualified interpreters, can also cause serious consequences when it comes to patients compliance. A current example of this is people’s willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Because if we don’t understand the message, we don’t trust the messenger. And sometimes, we might not even know we’ve received a message in the first place.

Healthcare staff shaking hands with patient

Low trust and less interpreters

We have several problems.

According to a survey done by the Swedish foundation The Global Village, people in lower socioeconomic areas of Sweden, with a higher rate of language diversity, had less trust in societal functions such as the healthcare system and the government than in other areas, when it came to information connected to COVID-19. This, or course, affects how people in these areas are going to comply with information provided by these functions.

The National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden reports that the most common reasons for not seeking care among foreign-born people are:

  1. Language problems
  2. Lack of trust in health care
  3. Lack of information about the healthcare organization

Speaking of language problems. In Sweden, we only have around 182 medically authorized interpreters. For all languages. A low number, since foreign born people make up about 20 % (2 million) of Swedens population. And an even lower number if you think about the fact that there are over 6000 languages in the world.

So, what can this mistrust in our societal functions and the lack of interpreters lead to?

vaccine syringes, bottles and cartons


The public health agency of Sweden reported that several studies show that foreign born people have a higher risk of suffering from serious illness and death from COVID19. The report also shows that foreign-born people have gotten vaccinated against COVID19 to a much lower degree than domestic-born people.

Gaps in the vaccination coverage increases the risk of the spread of infection. It can also affect the conditions to create equal health care in the long term. With less people vaccinated in certain areas or population groups, the risk of “cluster” outbreaks increases.

So, what can we do?

  1. We as a society need to think about how we can increase people’s trust for societal institutions. Because it people don’t trust the healthcare system, it dosen’t matter if they understand the information provided to them or not. Compliance will be low.
  2. Hospitals and other healthcare instances need to continue to focus on providing equal healthcare. And do so by exploring agile, innovative solutions. Because globalization is happening exponentially. Which means our solutions need to be able to adapt just as fast.
  3. You as a healthcare professional can use tools like Care to Translate to make sure you can provide equal treatment to all of your patients. No matter the language.
Smartphone with the app Care to Translate on the screen

Improve communication with a medical translation tool

Language barriers is not just a problem during a pandemic. And it’s always a good idea to have a complement ready if traditional interpreters aren’t available. Thats’ why we created Care to Translate, a medical translator in 39+ languages for healthcare staff and patients.