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Soz Praventivmed. 1999;44(6):283-7.

Language difficulties in an outpatient clinic in Switzerland.

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Département de Médecine Communautaire, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève.


This small-scale study attempts to examine the languages spoken in medical consultations during a one-month period in an outpatient clinic in Geneva and the ways health professionals use to communicate with their allophone patients, in particular by using interpreters. Patients of foreign origin accounted for 58% of all the consultations during the survey. Of these, 37% were Non-French-speakers (NFS). The four major language groups of NFS were Albanian, Somali, Tamil and Serbo-croat. Qualified interpreters were used in 24% of the consultations, relatives acting as interpreters in 17%, and in the other consultations without anyone interpreting (59%), a common language had to be negotiated: French, English, Italian, Spanish or German. In only 14% of the consultations without interpreters, both patient's and doctors ability to speak a common language was rated as good. Our data suggest that there has been an increasing awareness of the possible language barriers in the medical outpatient clinic. Even if proxy solutions (informal interpreters or the use of a common language) still play an important role, access to an interpreter service has been widely used. This calls for systematic and regular interpreter use, planning the interpreting needs in a timely manner. In the future, training in working with interpreters should become an integral part to the introductory sessions for the junior physicians assigned to the outpatient clinic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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