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BMC Fam Pract. 2013 Oct 24;14:163. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-14-163.

Interpreter-mediated diabetes consultations: a qualitative analysis of physician communication practices.

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Department of Community Medicine, Primary Care and Emergency Medicine, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.



Patient-provider communication, in particular physicians' ability to listen to their patients, and support them in making difficult lifestyle changes, is an essential component of effective diabetes care. Clinical communication around diabetes can be especially challenging when language barriers are present, and may contribute to poor diabetes management and outcomes. Clinicians need to be aware of and address potential communication difficulties associated with interpreter-mediated consultations. The purpose of our study was to explore how physicians communicate in interpreter-mediated consultations with diabetic patients, and how their communication behaviors may impact diabetes communication and care.


We analyzed transcripts from 8 audio recorded, outpatient consultations at the Basel University Hospital general medicine outpatient clinic involving Turkish-speaking patients, German-speaking physicians, and Turkish-German interpreters (both community interpreters and family members).


Clinicians used closed questions when asking about symptoms and glucose control. When providing information and explanation, they spoke in long and complex speech turns. They often directed their speech to interpreters or became sidetracked by family members' questions or requests for information. Patients' participation in the consultation was minimal, and limited to brief answers to clinicians' questions.


Clinicians need to be aware of common pitfalls that diminish patient-centeredness during interpreter-mediated consultations, and learn strategies to avoid them. Attention to established guidelines on triadic communication is recommended, as is hands-on training with interpreters.

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