Overcoming communication barriers in radiology - a South African view

Read about a South African study that discussed ways to improve communication in radiology departments when facing patients that do not speak your language.

A new study from South Africa investigated language barriers in a multicultural radiography setting. This is particularly challenging in South Africa as it is a country with 11 official languages plus a large number of refugees. Clinics all over the country face the challenge of language barriers daily.

Effective communication is important in any clinical setting. For patients that speak other languages, being able to speak in their own language helps to build respect, trust and rapport between the patient and caregiver. In the radiography department, effective communication between patients and radiographers also translates into better quality of care. Clinical histories can be obtained better, studying of the images shows improved quality and patients are exposed less to ionizing radiation by reducing the need for repeated procedures.

The study conducted focus group interviews and discussed with them different approaches on improving the interlingual communication, amongst others:

Short courses/workshops

Courses and workshops for healthcare personnel can teach them about languages and intercultural communication.

Written material such as documents and posters

Healthcare personnel mentioned it would be helpful to have, for example, posters that show instructions or of the human body so that they could point towards body parts.

Professional interpreters

Professional interpreters were seen as one of the best options to this date. However, it was mentioned that the interpreters need to have medical experience to translate specific terminology and maybe teach them to personnel.

Diverse workforce

Another suggestion was to employ personnel from different backgrounds speaking different languages so that they can act as interpreters when patients of their language come in.

Mobile translation technology

A new emerging solution could be apps such as Care to Translate. While not being able to completely substitute an interpreter, they can work complementary to them. The interviews also conclude that correct pronunciation in these apps is essential as it often is hard for healthcare personnel to know how to pronounce the new language correctly.

[P]erhaps like Google Translate. Or something that is more modern and made for the medical field.

(Quote from an interviewee of the study)

Ultimately, effective communication is essential to providing high-quality care in the field of radiology. By taking steps to overcome language barriers and ensure that patients fully understand their diagnoses and treatment options, radiologists can help to improve patient outcomes and provide the best possible care.

Reference:an Vuuren, C.J., van Dyk, B. and Mokoena, P.L. (2021) “Overcoming communication barriers in a multicultural radiography setting,” Health SA Gesondheid, 26. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4102/hsag.v26i0.1568.