Saturday, March 12, 2005

Neevu Engleesh Daktara?

Language in Medicine
One wonders why the study of language is not a more integral part of the study of medicine. Especially here in South India where it is not uncommon to encounter over six to seven languages in a single morning at the OPD.

The presumption is that all Indian doctors are natural born linguists. This is true to a certain extent with most of the senior doctors who seem to be able to take a basic history in a fair number of languages. Often however the interaction merely consists of a few basic questions and recycled advice. Real conservation in which the doctor can relate to the patients is difficult and requires a fair amount of experience and skill.

The people who feel the language barrier the most are the medical students and junior doctors who suddenly find themselves in possession of a fair amount of medical knowledge and absolutely no way of adequately communicating this to the people to whom it matters the most, the patients.

In this era of globalisation the issue of language and communication is all the more relevant. Large scale migration, especially to the cities ensures that at least in the urban setting doctors will always have to deal with patients from a multitude of linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Miscommunication is at the heart of the recent rise in the number cases of litigation against doctors by irate patients and carers who feel that there expectations and rights have been betrayed. Obviously the most glaring forms of miscommunication occurs when the doctor and patient do not share a common language and have no means of overcoming this barrier.

In this context a more organised approach to the challenge of producing multilingual doctors is the need of the hour. The assumption that doctors will pick up language 'on the job' needs to be reevaluated and alternate approaches need to be looked at.

The teaching of languages has undergone a radical transformation over the last fifty years. Most Western universities have language laboratories where new and innovative methods of acquiring language ability are being explored. The challenge is for the medical profession to incorporate these advances in its effort to provide better and more effective care.

1 comment:

Chasing Iamb said...

Did I send you this?