Beyond the Language Barrier: "See," "Hear," "Speak," "Help Me"

Saturday, 26 July 2014: 8:30 AM

Shirin Badruddin Verasia, MSN, BSN
Critical Care Nurse, Surgical ICU (SSCU-B), King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Shazia Arif Sr., BSN, RN
quality, kfshrc, riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Language is an important means of communication . King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre employs staff from 87 different cultures; a significant number of these staff delivers front line care to patients and families. Statistics showed that staff nurses from 38 different nationalities are hired to work in King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSHRC) with 900 beds (Admission data, 2012). In the intensive care unit, when these new nurses arrive, their grasp of Arabic is limited. The uniqueness of this situation poses great challenges in day to day communication. Although the hospital supports the use of the English language in the workplace, the reality is that many patients and relatives are Arabic speaking only. The consequence of this is that a second party often carries out communication; usually consisting of the family, care givers or hospital interpreters. This can lead to confusion occurring between parties’ e.g. interpretation of medical terminology, clarity, sharing of culturally sensitive information and the lack of confidentiality. This situation can be compounded by the patient’s inability to understand, or that they may have hearing or language difficulties.

A systematic and comprehensive search was done in January, 2013, to access research studies on overcoming language barriers among health care professionals and patients. Various words and phrases were used to guide the search that included: communication, language barriers, language conflict, overcoming language barriers and strategies to reduce language barriers. Data bases such as CINAHL, Pubmed, Sage and Science Direct were used to guide the search. The search ranged from 2003 to 2012. A total of 230 articles appeared relevant, but after reading the abstracts only fifteen were found relevant to the study purpose.

Literature search highlighted that most of the studies were conducted in the western region but none of the studies were found in the Middle East. In addition, most of the studies have explored the perceptions and feelings of the health care professionals including expatriates nurses and doctors about caring for patients with different language. Studies have emphasized the use of interpreters but none of the studies focus on the interventions to overcome the language barriers.

The communication toolkit is an education tool for non- Arabic speakers by expediting learning of   Arabic language skills. 

This communication project was created using collaborative decision making, different units worked together to help create the toolkit.

Patients are at the focus point in this project raising the standards to ensure patient satisfaction is a vital aspect for the hospital. Nursing staff care, understand the culture and are experienced in the art of nursing Saudi patients; using these key aspects the nursing staff was able to develop the toolkit flipchart, which is sensitive to the Arabic culture. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs model was addressed as spirituality is one of the main components in the communication flipchart. Benner’s Model has been addressed by nursing staff utilizing their experience and skills to draft a creative communication toolkit that attempts to address a gap in the language barrier within in the organization. The Communication toolkits aim is to overcome the language barrier, provide safe effective patient care and provide excellent quality care.