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I don’t understand

Living in a multicultural society we may often find ourselves facing the barrier of language, writes Babir Malik. With this in mind he offers up some solutions

Communication is extremely important in pharmacy. We have to ensure that our message gets across to doctors, other health care professionals, staff and, most importantly, the patients.

But what happens when the recipient of the message can't understand English? What happens when you repeatedly ask a patient to repeat their query, until you have the patient at breaking point and yourself blushing in embarrassment?

Living in a multicultural society we may often find ourselves facing the barrier of language. If you don't have a degree in Pictionary or charades, you may well struggle. Although you could always try the British solution, which involves talking very slowly and loudly in English in the accent of the recipient. This is frequently deployed on holiday.

So what do we have to help us?

Your company or PCT may have a system in place for dealing with this. Perhaps the company employs overseas/bilingual pharmacists who are happy to translate.

If not, NHS Direct offer an interpretation service.

The Department of Health also has an Emergency Multilingual Phrase book.

The book is produced by The British Red Cross and contains a list of 57 questions in English with translations in 37 other languages. It's designed for medical emergencies with roughly 30 questions applicable to pharmacy. 

As pharmacists it is vital we understand a patient's needs. Here's a personal example, dated back to my student years where I had a Saturday job in a pharmacy in Leeds. A lady came in and could not speak English, pointing down below. I was all set to sell her some Canesten Thrush cream. She shook her head and disappeared, returned with a box of sanitary towels.

What's been your worst misunderstanding?

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