Language barriers in anesthesiology, post-op and intensive care: Insights from a Swedish study

These are the findings from a survey conducted among healthcare professionals working in anesthesiology, post-op and intensive care in Sweden.

Language barriers can pose significant challenges in healthcare settings, potentially compromising patient safety and quality of care. To gain a deeper understanding of this issue, we conducted interviews with healthcare professionals specializing in anesthesiology, postoperative care, and ICU in Sweden. 

Here's what we found.

Survey findings

Frequency of language barriers

Our survey revealed that a staggering 73% of healthcare professionals working in anesthesiology, post-op, and ICU encounter language barriers either daily or weekly. This highlights the critical need for effective communication solutions in these healthcare areas.

Encountered languages

The Swedish healthcare professionals we interviewed most frequently encountered language barriers with patients speaking Ukrainian, Somali, and various Middle Eastern languages. Being able to communicate in these languages is therefore crucial for effective patient care.

Utilized tools

  • Notepads allowed our survey participants to write down important information or instructions for patients in other languages. Simple, but this way of translating information has its obvious limitations. When encountering patients who speak other languages, the notes become unusable. And if the need emerges to communicate other information than what is on the notepads, the healthcare professionals are back to square one.
  • Many of our survey participants turned to Google Translate for quick translations, although it's important to note that this tool may not always provide accurate or contextually appropriate translations.
  • In some cases, colleagues who were fluent in the patient's language could assist in interpreting. This is however not a sustainable translation solution, as colleagues might have other patients they need to attend to and the language selection is limited.
  • In some situations, the survey participants used family members proficient in both languages to help translate important information. This alternative does not take into account the patient's integrity, and since relatives or friends might not be proficient in medical language, the translations have a risk of becoming inaccurate.
  • Using professional interpreters is one of the most reliable ways to ensure accurate and clear communication between healthcare professionals and patients that the survey participants used. Although, this alternative was not used to the extent needed. 

Commonly used phrases

The participants identified several phrases that are crucial for effective communication in anesthesiology, post-op, and the ICU:

  • Can you show me where it hurts?
  • Do you want painkillers?
  • Do you feel nauseous?
  • Can you grade your pain between 1-10?
  • Have you ever been sedated?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Have you been able to go to the bathroom?
  • When was the last time you ate something?

All of this information is available to communicate through our medical translation app. Try it here.

In conclusion

Language barriers are a common challenge faced by healthcare professionals in anesthesiology, post-op, and the ICU in Sweden. And understanding the need for translation and what needs to be communicated to patients in anesthesiology, post-op, and ICU is essential to be able to employ effective communication tools and strategies to ensure patient safety and quality of care.

Fortunately, the content available in our medical translation app covers anesthesiology, post-op, as well as the ICU. Want to know more about how your department can use it in patient communication? Contact us to find out more.

Further resources

Are you interested in delving deeper into this topic? Then we recommend exploring the following resources:

Take action

Our goal at Care to Translate is to break down language barriers in health care, ensuring patient safety and integrity. Join us in our mission to improve patient communication in anesthesiology, post-op and intensive care and beyond.