I can’t say that I enjoy the patient encounter as much when it involves a translator. There’s just something about communicating through a third party that changes the experience. But there are some things you can do as a provider to bridge the gap when the patient doesn’t speak your language.
Look. Even thought the translator is doing the talking, look at the patient just as if you are asking the question yourself. There’s a tendency to let the translator act as a surrogate with respect to eye contact and visual feedback.
Smile. A smile doesn’t need translation. It conveys very clearly that have a sincere interest in making a connection.
Touch. I never leave the exam room without some type of sincere physical contact. A firm handshake or a hand on the shoulder go a long way in closing the language barrier.
Say something funny. Patients don’t expect jokes to come through a translator. And there’s nothing better than watching a silly, lighthearted remark make its way into another language. It’s powerful and fun.
It’s important to think about how we can recreate the elements of a one-on-one dialog. What do you do to make a connection beyond spoken language?