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Language barriers for Hispanic patients

Health comes first therefore it is one of everyone’s main concerns. Understanding medical diagnoses, treatment, and procedures is crucial for everybody, and not being able to comprehend, due to the language barrier, can affect medical treatment.

“I am always worrying about who’s coming with me to my next doctors’ appointment. Whether one of my sons or daughters are available to come with me so they can translate,” said Ciro Hernandez , 81.Hernandez has been  trapped in the same situation  since he first came to this country thirty years ago. He believes that his relationship with doctors is not as strong, as it used to be back in his  native country, due to the language barrier.

“I do not only experience difficulties at every appointment but I also have a hard time reading my prescriptions,” explains Ciro.

According to the studies, conducted by the Division of General Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the foundation of primary care is in the physician-patient relationship. This relationship is affected by the language barrier which makes the patient feel that their physician does not understand them.

Meanwhile, Josefa Hernandez 78, resides in an area that’s highly populated by Hispanics in New Jersey. She has not experienced the lack of communication with her doctors. “Every since I came to this country the majority of my doctors speak Spanish perfectly therefore I was able to communicate with them, I do not think I would have the same relationship with non Spanish-speaking doctors,” said Josefa.

Time is also another enemy factor that affects patient-physician relationship because the majority of doctors might feel that they are running out of time when they have to add in additional time for the translator and patient. More attention needs to be given to the translation process.

“As health care professional it’s difficult ,from time to time, to deal with patients that do not speak English, most of the time we use a family member to translate questions regarding the patient health. If the family member is not present the hospital provides a translator,” explains Nurse Hesha Parekh.

In addition, it is highly demonstrated that a specific focus on explanations of medications with the help of existing translators may be helpful. Written information in Spanish has been the other option according to the studies conducted by Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

When a hospital is unable to provide a translator a patient can be non compliant with treatment, explains Parekh. “Therefore, it is important to make sure that 24 hour translation is provided. Negligence in not providing a translator can lead to the lack of understanding the patient condition.” concluded Parekh.

 By Being Latino Contributor, Vilma Sierra

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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