A Multi-Language Dentistry Clinic Can Facilitate Better Doctor-Patient Communication

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With a population of almost 3 million residents in the city and an estimated 5.5 million in the GTA, Toronto is considered one of the most multicultural metropolises in the world. In fact, a study conducted in 2006 reveals that over 140 languages and dialects are spoken in Toronto and that an overwhelming 30% of the residents speak a language other than English and French at home.

Dental care and the language barrier

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In the multi-cultural population that defines the Toronto, there are very high chances that dentists come across patients in the clinical settings who do not speak English. The communication between dentists and their patients can be challenging when neither of them speak the same language. Unfortunately, research shows that the language barrier is one of the biggest impediments for immigrants when it comes to seeking dental care, particularly since the clinical encounter relies heavily on verbal communication.

Granted, some dental care facilities have employed various means of interpretation to facilitate communication with patients who can’t speak English or French. To put it simply, most dentists relied on interpreters as a good solution when the doctor-patient communication was hindered by language difficulties. However, it turns out that working with interpreters presents several major risks and conflicts with the breach of confidentiality policy.

There’s also the issue of costs…

Even though some dental care clinics managed to find professional interpreters who have received the appropriate training and are familiar with the terminology, practitioners report an increase in costs. First off, because the interpreter is present during the consultation, the appointment time has increased considerably; as dentists don’t charge extra for this, the efficiency and profitability of their clinic has declined visibly.

Another common problem is with patients who miss appointments due to communication breakdown. According to clinics’ managers, the time required to contact the interpreter for the purpose of rescheduling the appointment with the non-English or non-French speaking patients has increased administrative costs and time.

Lastly, working with interpreters to provide services to this category of patients will ultimately lead to increased staff expenses. For instance, if a member of the staff has to abandon his normal duties to facilitate interpretation, then this should be reflected in his/her monthly revenue.

Are informal interpreters a better solution?

In addition to conflicting with the doctor-patient confidentiality, professional interpreters also have the disadvantage of not being adequately trained in dental terminology. Therefore, unless these professionals are trained and provided governmental funding, they don’t constitute a viable solution for dentists who treat non-English and non-French speaking patients. Some dentists have proposed the use of informal interpreters – mostly friends and family members – as a potential answer to this issue.

According to the promoters of this cause, informal interprets do not only help the practitioner gain the patients’ trust faster, but they are also readily available and come with the added benefit of speed of translation and lack of cost. However, dentists who have tried out this solution within their clinics pointed out quite a number of problems with informal interpreters. An increased appointment time, the ability of the interpreter to grasp dentist terminology and various concerns regarding the patient’s privacy are some of the most commonly quoted issues as to why this resolution is not feasible.

Informed consent is by far the biggest problem in this context

As previously mentioned, the direct communication between the dentist and his/her patients is essential for adequately identifying the problem and delivering the correct treatment. In spite of the fact that an interpreter is present in the practitioner’s office to facilitate communication for non-English and non-French speaking patients, dentists underline that consent obtained via this method is not relevant.

To put it simply, the patient’s approval acquired across a language barrier without a competent interpretation is not considered informed consent. The reason why this is such a big issue stems from the fact that the failure to communicate properly with the patients constitutes the major source of negligence lawsuits in Canada and the United States.

Multi-Language dentistry clinics overcome all these setbacks

To avoid all legal and ethical issues associated with professional and informal interpreters, certain clinics have raised the bar and currently provide their patients with the opportunity to speak with their dentists in their mother tongue. For instance, at the Dao & Associates Dental Centres in GTA, patients can depend on dental care practitioners who speak any of the following languages:

• English
• French
• Arabic
• Vietnamese
• Farsi (Persian)
• Cantonese
• Mandarin
• Urdu
• Hindi

If you or any member of your family feels more comfortable speaking Persian or any of the languages listed above, then you should consider making an appointment with a Farsi dentist. In addition to receiving premium dental care from a professional with years of experience, you will also be able to clarify any dental queries you might have in a language you know. This way, you can be certain you are efficaciously communicating your needs. It’s a win-win situation for you!

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