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Language Lessons: Palliative Care Training for Interpreters

Cynthia E. Roat

Language barriers between patients and providers loom even larger in palliative care. Health care interpreters discuss how a palliative care training program fills a gap in their field.

The medical specialty of palliative care focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness or at the end of life. Language barriers between patients and providers can make these delicate discussions even more challenging.

To better understand the unique issues of communication in the palliative care setting, health care interpreters across the country were surveyed.

Results included:

  • Interpreters face common challenges: technical terms with no linguistic equivalent in the patient's language, and questions, comments, and advice from care providers that conflict with the culture of the patient or the patient's family.
  • More than three-quarters of respondents report that palliative care encounters are more stressful than routine clinical encounters.
  • Among respondents with palliative care interpretation experience, 89% think that interpreters in general need more training on palliative care, and 80% want more training for themselves.

Following the survey, CHCF funded the development of a palliative care training curriculum for interpreters. The training program has since been adapted to an online format.

The issue brief, which summarizes the survey and describes the development and projected impact of the curriculum, is available under Document Downloads.

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