Language is a barrier to seeking medical attention

The Swedish Breast Cancer Association recently released a report on (social) exclusion in breast cancer screening. It hightlights a very important condition that applies to all areas of healthcare: People that don’t know the language, are less likely to seek medical attention.

Foreign-born women have a higher mortality rate from breast cancer. More than every third woman born outside of the Nordics do not go to their breast cancer screenings.  This is twice as many as among women born in Sweden.  It is not uncommon to feel fear before the examination and worry about pain and many depend on relatives, often their children, to translate healthcare information in Swedish. All in all, the language barriers for mammography screenings are high.

This report highlights the fact that people who do not understand the language (and ultimately, the information provided, the procedures, the healthcare system) will not seek medical attention. Whether it is preventative or curative care.

Access to preventive care

Preventive care is vital in maintaining good health and preventing the progression of diseases. However, language barriers often deter immigrants from accessing preventive care services such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, and annual check-ups. Without proper communication, immigrants may miss out on essential early interventions that could have long-term health benefits.

Seeking curative care

Language barriers can manifest in various ways for immigrants that need to seek medical attention themselves. This includes difficulty in understanding medical information, to make appointments, and to convey their symptoms accurately. As a result, immigrants may experience disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes compared to native English speakers.

Addressing language barriers in healthcare

Given the significant impact of language barriers on immigrant communities and the healthcare system, it is imperative to address this issue comprehensively. Several strategies can help bridge the gap and ensure equitable access to healthcare for all.

Multilingual health information

Health education materials, including pamphlets, websites, and brochures, should be available in multiple languages commonly spoken by immigrant communities. This ensures that immigrants have access to essential health information and can make informed decisions about their healthcare. Both regarding preventative and curative care.

Community-based outreach

Community organizations can play a crucial role in promoting healthcare access among immigrants. Outreach programs that focus on informing immigrants about available healthcare services, providing assistance in making appointments, and connecting them with language resources can be effective in overcoming language barriers.

Invest in interpreter services

Once a patient is in a healthcare setting, it is necessary to facilitate effective communication between healthcare providers and patients. Both to ensure that the right medical information is conveyed accurately, but also to build trust. With the healthcare staff, but also the healthcare system as a whole.

Make use of technology

Digital translation tools, such as Care to Translate,  can be a complement to language translation services, making it possible to communicate in situations where interpreters are usually not available to use. For example during mammography screenings, immunisztions or in emergencies.

Culturally competent care

Understanding the cultural nuances and expectations of immigrant communities can help providers build trust with their patients. This, in turn, can improve communication and healthcare outcomes.

Care to Translates vision is to make it possible for all patients and healthcare staff to communicate, no matter the language. We cooperate with many medical clinics in different fields (mammography among many others) and would gladly tell you more about how we can support your clinic to reduce language barriers. Contact us here