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Language problems as a barrier to proper health care

Wednesday Internal Medicine video
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From the mere medical point of view there is no big difference between migrant and non-migrant patients. We are all human beings and the pathologies in human beings are basically the same all over the world.
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The biggest challenge for us is when we take care of refugees: there is the language barrier and the cultural background which is different. Let me give you an example for a problem with the language barrier. We had a patient suffering from diabetes which was newly diagnosed and we saw that he urgently needed medication to treat the highly elevated sugar levels. So he was informed to take medication once daily. He received a prescription and went to the pharmacy. After some time we saw that the medication did not work and we did not find any reason. We asked him, “Did you take your medication?” He said, “Well, of course, I did”.
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And the final solution was that we asked him, “Please show us your tablets”. And what he showed us were sweets for diabetic people. And it turned out that he went to the pharmacy, and obviously, there was a nice lady who said, “Sorry sir, the medication you need is out of stock. Please come back in two hours, we will organize that”. And because she was a nice lady and she pitied him, she gave him some sweets. But he didn’t understand and he thought, “This is the medication the doctor prescribed”.
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And sometimes it’s like Murphy’s Law: “everything that can go wrong will go wrong”. So, this is a good example of how close you have to be with a patient and ask questions you would never ask a German patient because you can be sure that he/she understands the system, and the communication even in the pharmacy is much easier. You may laugh about the story, but it just illustrates how complicated sometimes medical care can be.
In this video, Dr Ziegler gives another example of how language problems can create barriers to proper health care.
Have you ever experienced any encounters between patients and health professionals where differences in cultural background or language problems have become an obstacle to the patient’s access to adequate health care? Feel free to share your experiences below.
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