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Language Barriers in End-of-Life Care

The population in the United States is growing older and more ethnically diverse over time, according to United States Census Bureau statistics. This means more medical resources will be devoted to end-of-life care (EoLC). Language barriers can often create additional costs and cause inefficiencies in EoLC. Studies show some patients from different ethnic groups are more likely to undergo intense, often non-urgent, treatments in their final years but are less likely to go into hospice care. end-of-life costs.

That’s a problem that better communication could ease, argues a team of researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Veterans Administration’s Palo Alto, California hospital. However, until recently, no one really knew what stood in the way of doctors talking with their patients about planning for their final days, especially when those patients were from different ethnic backgrounds.

A team of researchers, led by Stanford clinical professor and Veterans Health Administration Doctor Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil, has data from a study aimed at uncovering the stumbling blocks. Of the more than 1,200 doctors surveyed, about five in six reported having had significant difficulties talking about death and dying with patients from different ethnicities and as a group they cited language barriers as the top reason. (Read the full study: PLOS ONE.)

“Medical jargon is often difficult to translate into other languages [as equivalent words may not exist] and approximate translations do not convey the true meaning and may lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication,” Periyakoil and her team write. Doctors also cited families’ religious and cultural beliefs as barriers.

For any language team working on medical and healthcare translation and interpretation, they must be fluent, native linguists and hold a high level of subject matter expertise. It is important to keep the translated content aligned with the source content. There is no room for error. However, it remains important to adapt the content to resonate with local audiences, both culturally and linguistically. Putting translators, linguists, and reviewers into the shoes of the patient creates a deeper understanding of overall objectives which can be delivered into all locales.

Contact Welocalize Life Sciences for more information on our medical and healthcare translation services.