Every day the emergency rooms are filled with people from different ethnic backgrounds, religions and languages. Often western doctors and nurses are not only overwhelmed trying to treat the injured, but more pressing is that they are not always able to communicate effectively with the patients.

Speaking to a medical practitioner some time ago at one of the hospitals in Metro Vancouver was an eye -opener. He noted that it was extremely difficult to understand patients of different cultures, and therefore, had to be extra vigilant when administrating certain drugs.

For example, when a patient of Indian, Chinese or Japanese background comes into the emergency, at times they have a tendency to downplay their suffering and pain.

On the other hand, for example a patient of Italian background may over exaggerate because in certain cultures expressing one’s feelings of discomfort is more acceptable whereas in others other cultures such behavior is looked down upon.

I can recall whenever my grandmother got sick, who passed away in her late 70’s from a stroke, she would often say she is getting better, therefore, no need to see a doctor. Perhaps one reason was that she could not speak English very well. And often there is the perception among certain ethnic cultures that going for an operation or to the hospital is a signal that they may never come out alive.

Now days more and more hospitals have interpreters and a staff of diverse cultures are available. And family members are often available if needed. However, medical practitioners still have to be extra cautious, whether it is administrating drugs or selection of words used when giving unpleasant news even though patients may be able to communicate in English.