Overcoming Communication Barriers with Non-English Speaking Patient

Jun 15, 2016

nurse and patient

Nearly a decade ago, The Joint Commission identified the "triple threat" of effective health communication: low health literacy, cultural barriers and limited English proficiency. While nurses and care teams have always treated a diverse range of patients from different cultures, many of whom speak little to no English, their numbers have increased over the years.

But, these types of patients have also become easier to treat, thanks to a new set of best practices and tools like multilingual communication boards. So, what can nurses and other care team staff do in this situation?

Be Patient and Understanding, Not Judgemental

It's important to first remember that remaining patient and trying to be understanding of the patient's situation can go a long way. There is nothing that can be done to eliminate the language barrier this instant, and it's likely that neither you nor the patient is going to learn a new language during the course of treatment.

Use Nonverbal Cues

Since auditory communication may be out of the question, it is up to nurses to rely on nonverbal cues and positive body language. When a patient cannot understand the language that is being spoken, it's likely that he or she will be watching your movements very closely.

Remember to position yourself in a very relaxed, non-aggressive stance, smile and use any hand signals or gestures to that can help get your point across. Although the patient can't understand what you are saying, you can always speak with a pleasant tone of voice to make them feel more comfortable.

Use the Tools at Your Disposal

There are ways to communicate with patients using custom dry erase boards. Placing a multilingual communication board in each room at a hospital or outpatient clinic can help care teams communicate with patients because the boards can be customized to portray any language alongside English.

At VividBoard, we work with hospitals to create custom whiteboards that are tailored to their specific communication needs. Any language (from Spanish to French, Chinese, etc.) can be placed on our boards, and our team can even brand each board with your company's colors, logos, images and any other information you need.

Our patient room boards are a customized solution for the very frequent communication problems encountered by care team staff in hospital and outpatient settings. To learn more about our healthcare whiteboards, see our Patient Room IdeaBook or contact our team to request a sample of one of our boards.