Cultural competence and healthcare experts at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) have published research results about the impact of language barriers on access to healthcare in Qatar’s highly diverse society.

WCM-Q researchers conducted interviews in the native language of Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and English-speaking patients at Hamad General Hospital outpatient clinics and discovered most had experienced some difficulty accessing care because of language barriers.

The research reveals English is the dominant language in hospitals, and a widespread belief that poor English skills present barriers to care, which even some Arabic speakers found frustrating. Hindi and Urdu speakers reported encountering language barriers more than Arabic and English speakers. Patients reported using informal communication strategies, such as communicating through untrained nurses or family members, non-verbal communication, and mixing languages.

The research was carried out in partnership with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and the University of Michigan and has now been published in the highly regarded Journal of Health Communication in a paper titled ‘Patient Perspectives on Language Discordance During Healthcare Visits: Findings From the Extremely High-Density Multicultural State of Qatar’.

Dr Ravinder Mamtani, WCM-Q Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Population Health, Capacity Building and Student Affairs said that learning to communicate with one another as effectively as possible maximises healthcare outcomes for all.

We are very grateful to our associates at HMC for their extremely supportive attitude to this important piece of research.’

Huda Abdelrahim, a Senior Specialist of Cultural Competence in Healthcare in WCM-Q’s Institute for Population Health, co-principal investigator and the lead author of the paper said that the project is a great example of collaborative efforts to investigate cross-cultural issues in healthcare.

More studies like this can help inform policies to eliminate healthcare disparities, ensure patient safety and augment healthcare outcomes for diverse populations.’

Principal investigator Dr Michael D Fetters from the University of Michigan said they wanted to identify how language barriers diminish access to healthcare from the perspectives of patients themselves, as the information can be used to develop strategies to transcend linguistic differences and enhance healthcare access for all.

The other co-principal investigators are Dr Amal Khidir, Associate Professor of Paediatrics, Maha Elnashar, Director of the Center for Cultural Competence in Healthcare at WCM-Q, and Dr Maya Hammoud, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Medical Education, and Amal Killawi, Qualitative Data Analyst at the University of Michigan. Dr Abdul Latif Al-Khal, Director of the Department of Medical Education at HMC provided essential information and support to the research.

These research findings will inform the importance and value of adopting interpretation services in healthcare institutions.  The research recommendations include raising awareness of the critical need for professional interpretation in Qatar healthcare, offering written information in multiple languages, adding patients’ language preferences to their medical records, systematic reviewing of the current language services quality in Qatar hospitals and ensuring sustainability.

Visit the WCM-Q website for more information about their research programme.