Here is a personal account from someone we know highlighting the need for medical professionals with whom patients can comfortably speak in order to make the best decision for their care. What are the answers? A few things come to mind: Maybe easily accessible medical interpreters or more diversity in the medical community? Either way, people live this every day and it needs to be better managed to avoid situations like this…
My father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer 2 years ago. Originally from Taiwan, he lived in Brazil for 20 years and later in the US for 15 years. Although he speaks three languages, Chinese is the one he understands the best and when your health is at stake you just want to know all the details about what is going on in order to make the most informed decision.
First, he had a lot of trouble dealing with all the bureaucracy of the health insurances; it was really complicated to simply schedule an exam. Plus, since time was of the essence, he couldn’t afford to spend much of it speaking with insurance companies.
Then, he having trouble finding the right doctor- even one who could sympathize with his struggle to understand English. He had always found non-native doctors to be more patient in general with regards to the struggles of other immigrants no matter where they were from. His sons tried to help as much as they could – a common reality to immigrants because the second generation would learn the second language better - but not understanding 100% of everything was really bothering him.
So, because he was in a hurry, battling a serious disease, and had good contacts in Taiwan, he returned to his motherland for treatment. He also underwent surgery and recovered there before coming back to US.
Now, he must always undergo routine exams to check if everything is under control. After an extensive search, his son was able to find a very good doctor who speaks Chinese fluently and now he is finally able to get routine checks in US. He will go back to Taiwan by the end of the year to visit his doctor there but at least now he has a way to check his health and get a second opinion in the language a understands best without traveling far and wide.
If he didn’t find this doctor, he would probably spend more time in Taiwan than in US, away from his family and all he has known for so long.