Communicative Goals in Cross-Cultural Health Communication

Honorable Mention in the 2018 calendar year Medical Humanities Best Essay Competition

Abstract: Effective communication is an essential key to a successful patient-physician encounter. This is true in all cases, including those where patients are limited in English proficiency (LEP). In today’s era of patient-centered care (PCC) medicine, healthcare providers strive to deliver care that is concordant with the patient's values, needs, and preferences, allowing patients to participate in  the decisions of their health. To account for medical encounters that require bilingual health communication, most American healthcare institutions employ medical interpreters to assist and supplement the professional medical expertise of providers. The introduction of the medical interpreter not only attempts to tackle the language barrier between the provider and the patient, but also seeks to bridge the cultural differences held by both parties. This paper will begin by analyzing the discrepancies between the literature and practice of healthcare interpreting through an examination of both, followed by a re-centralization of the standard communicative goals in healthcare communication in order to recognize how our current understanding of interpreter-mediated communication interferes with those goals, and ending with a call for a revision of the interpreting guidelines not only to reflect the true nature of interpreter-mediated medical encounters, but also to more seamlessly fulfill the goal of the physician profession.