Language Barriers

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Language Barriers

Most health care facilities serve a very diverse population of patients. In everyday practice, the phlebotomist may encounter patients whose primary language is not English, who speak no English at all or who are unable to speak at all. A language barrier should not interfere with providing excellent service to the patient.
Table 1 describes several options available to the phlebotomist to effectively communicate with patients who speak a language other than what the phlebotomist speaks and understands.
Table 1. Options for Communication with Patients whose Native Language is Not That of the Phlebotomist.
OptionAdvantageDisadvantageComment
Professional Medical InterpreterMany healthcare facilities have staff interpreters who are always availableNot all languages/dialects are availableIt is best to use a professional interpreter when available
Telephone language line; telephone with 2 receiversTrained interpreters in any language are available 24/7Telephone must be moved to patient room; must pay for this serviceAny language in the world is available; professional interpreters
Staff member fluent in languageFamiliar with medical procedures and facility policyNot always readily available; unable to perform other duties while interpreting
Family memberOften readily availableInaccurate interpretation of information; HIPAA violations possibleIt is not advisable to use family members as interpreters; children may have to inform parents of unfortunate news
The phlebotomist should be encouraged to use an interpreter rather than point, push or pull a patient for compliance. Many local schools and universities offer specific short courses for medical professionals in languages such as Spanish or American Sign language.
The use of professional service, either in person or via phone, is the preferred choice.