AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

AMA Journal of Ethics. March 2017

This month in Journal of Ethics

Language and Hierarchy in Medicine

Of the many barriers to good health care service delivery, language and literacy obstacles can be the most challenging to overcome. Patients with limited English proficiency, for example, can have trouble conveying critical information about symptoms and experiences. Clinicians who understand only English might struggle to integrate critical information from these patients’ stories into the formulation of accurate diagnoses and plans to offer helpful interventions. One strategy for improving cross-cultural communication in health care organizations can happen at the organizational level: offering reliable access to quality language and interpretive services. This is one pathway to quality care and shared decision making, which some argue is not only an urgent priority, but also a clinical and ethical obligation.