SBS Punjabi

Patients and doctors face language barriers

SBS Punjabi

Doctor and senior patient discussing medical test results using digital tablet

If English is not your first language, a doctor's appointment can be difficult Source: Getty Images


Published 5 July 2022 at 3:15pm
By Deborah Groarke
Presented by Jasdeep Kaur
Source: SBS

As Australia becomes an increasingly multicultural nation, there's concern that diverse communities are being let down by Medicare. Doctors say the current funding doesn't cover the time they would like to spend with patients for whom English is not their first language.


Published 5 July 2022 at 3:15pm
By Deborah Groarke
Presented by Jasdeep Kaur
Source: SBS


The latest Australian Census told us that we are an increasingly multicultural nation.

As Australia's multicultural community has grown, the demand for services has grown along with it. And it's exposed the need for support in some service areas, like health care.

Bruce Willett from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says there's a strong demand for telephone interpreter services during consultations with family doctors. He says not all medical practices use interpreters - and that's because families frequently take their place. 

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The Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia, or CIRCA, completed a report in 2017 for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

Their study found that there are key differences in how and when people from diverse backgrounds present for treatment for particular conditions, and the issues they face in accessing health services.

Dr Astrid Perry from Settlement Services International says their experience, as a community organisation that supports newly arrived people from multicultural backgrounds, bears this out.

She says people can be frequently mis-diagnosed or just misunderstood.

Bruce Willett says bilingual GPs can help bridge that gap. 

For those patients who are refugees and in Australia on temporary visas, the concern is that even if they can find a doctor who speaks their language, or have access to interpreters, they cannot always even afford to see a doctor. 

There's no item in the Medicare schedule that caters specifically for patients who require translators.

CIRCA's study found that patients from diverse backgrounds consistently reported feeling they were not given the time in an appointment to fully understand what was being said or to ask questions.

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