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Language & Culture Barriers in Healthcare ACD

By Alexis Di Palma, RN BSN

Health care can be a complicated issue. In the world of healthcare there are multiple limits on the scope of practice involving Advanced Practice Nurse’s. Cultural and language barriers complicate the situation. It is essential to understand the language of our patients. Conversing is a principal form of communication.

Non-verbal communication is a persuasive form of communication and is heavily impacted by culture. It is imperative for health care practices to take steps to address linguistic and cultural barriers faced by the increasing numbers of limited English proficiency patients.

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The issue is that many patients may not be able to understand the medical provider, which may potentially lead to errors and adverse outcomes. It is crucial for the health care provider to take the time and assure they follow the proper guidelines for working with an interpreter, also to confirm that the patient(s) comprehend the health information that is being passed on to them.

According to the US Census Bureau, over 350 languages are spoken in the United States (Li et al., 2017). As of 2015, 29.2 million more immigrants came to the United States since 1980 (Li et al., 2017). According to the 2015 United States Census Bureau, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 38.4% of the US population, and, it has been projected that by 2050 non-hispanic whites will no longer be the minority group (Li et al., 2017).

The opposition is that some professionals who are currently practicing in the medical field do not follow the specific guidelines for language interpretation. They may believe that it should be the responsibility of the patient to understand the English language. However, this may have a negative impact on patient safety and patient satisfaction.

Although it may be quicker to utilize a patient’s friend or family member for translation services, especially if short staffed, the questioning of reliability and accuracy of supplied information may arise in addition to adverse clinical consequences. Providing language classes to both the provider and the patient and offering these classes at various places of employment can be taken advantage of by the healthcare team. Healthcare providers have to be aware of the opportunities available and explore various strategies to overcome the many barriers to languages.

Effective communication with all patients is the core of quality health care. Medical staff need to be aware of cultural differences in the major domains of non-verbal communication. Hospitals, clinics, or any medical office should have the proper resources available at all times for healthcare professionals to utilize when caring for an LEP patient. The ultimate goal is to improve cross-cultural communication while providing the utmost care to all patients regardless of their primary language. APN’s must follow guidelines & utilize available resources.


Li, C., Abdulkerim, N., Jordan, C.A., & Ga Eun Son, C. (2017). Overcoming Communication Barriers to Healthcare for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Patients. North American Journal of Medicine and Science, 10, 103-109.

Alexis Di Palma, RN BSN is currently a Nurse Practitioner student at D’Youville College located in Buffalo, NY.

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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