When it comes to health care, understanding and being understood is crucial. Communication skills are required from health care staff at all levels, in order to avoid misunderstanding with the patients, ask the right questions, and listen effectively. Communication is a particular challenge with migrant patients. There are about 200,000 people living in Switzerland who do not understand any of the national languages nor English. In addition, many patients with a migration background face difficulties in mastering everyday conversations and need assistance to understand complicated health-related explanations.

In order to achieve high quality care, health care institutions must ensure effective communication between all patients and their health care providers. Strategies to address language barriers include matching patients with providers who speak their language, providing access to in-person and over-the-phone interpreting services and training bilingual staff to serve as interpreters, using medical interpreting technologies and translating information documents to patients’ languages. For these methods to be effective, institutions must develop policies, guidelines and training on when and how to use these different resources to effectively overcome language barriers with patients.