The Language Divide

For many of us in San Miguel, we have little need to speak Spanish to our primary care and other health care providers. We can easily be lulled into trusting that all health care providers will be able to communicate with us. The reality is that most first responders and medical personnel don’t speak English.

Receptionists, nursing staff, ambulance personnel, food servers and many doctors are likely to be very limited in their English skills. Or you may be traveling in areas where English is less likely to be spoken.Lack of good communication when it comes to health concerns can create the potential for serious medical errors.

While it’s unreasonable to expect the expat community to learn adequate Spanish skills to avoid miscommunications, there are some very simple and important steps that can be taken to reduce the potential for errors and misunderstandings.If you have a chronic condition, learn the Spanish words to define or describe your condition. Learn the Spanish words for basic health issues and body parts, such as “fever”, “weakness”, “pain”, “chest”, “arm”. Always bring a fluent Spanish-speaker with you for any appointment, tests or hospitalization where you are likely to have language difficulties. It may be necessary to hire someone, and doing so may make the difference in your ability to receive the right treatment.

Have your health information and medications written out in Spanish to give to your first responders and medical care providers. The best care you will receive will depend largely on your ability to communicate with your first responders and health care providers. Because we live in a country where English is not widely used, it is definitely to our advantage to be proactive in accessing the medical care available.

Updated 11-10-12