Language as a Barrier to Health Care for Oromo Speaking Patients in Hospitals: A Case Study on Jimma and Wollega Public Hospitals

Chimdi Wakuma, Eba Teresa


A language concordance between doctors and their patients is very important to exchanging information, expressing emotion, instructing patients, and providing health education. But when they are mutually unintelligible because they don’t have common language between them, language has become to be a barrier rather than serving at the arena they need it. When language is a barrier, it can interfere with wrong scheduling appointments, hinder the compilation of an accurate medical history, or block understanding of a health provider’s instructions and so on and so forth. The aim of this study is to explore language as a barrier to health care for Afaan Oromoo speaking patients in Jimma University Specialized Hospital and Wollaga University Referral Hospital. The study was a qualitative research method and data were collected from patients, patients’ family/guardian, and health serves providers through interview method. Focus group discussion was conducted with health service providers and the hospital managements. The findings of the study has revealed that there is no common language between much patients and their health serves providers and/or no professional interpreters between them as well and therefore, the patients and their family or guardians were exposed to delaying treatment, compromising their well-being, leaving the hospital without getting medication being disappointed, and losing their life where the situation is to the worst. It is advisable that if hospitals consider establishing a centralized program and committee with executive level to coordinate services relating to language as a part of the organization’s commitment to language sensitive health care. It is better if financial incentives are created to promote, develop and maintain accessibility to qualified health serves and professional interpreters.


Language as a Barrier; Communication; Interpreter; Health Care

Full Text:



Alice H. C. etal. (2005). Addressing Language Access Issues in Your Practice. California Academy of Family Physicians; Modesto, California and Basic Support (JABS), and the media. Swindon: ESRC.

Breen, L.M. (1999). What should I do if my patient does not speak English? Journal of Medical Association, 282, 819. doi: 10.1001/jama.282.9.819.

Buwalda, H. (2007). Basic competencies for mental health interpreters. Retrieved May 2018 from: health/htm.

Coulmas, Florian (1998). "Introduction." The Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Coulmas, Florian (Editor). Blackwell Publishing house.

Duffin J (1999) History of medicine: a scandalously short introduction. London.

Egede. (2010). Center race, ethnicity, culture and disparities in health care. JGIM MedicalUniversity of South Carolina Charleston, SC, USA.

Ferguson, C. A. (1966) “On Sociolinguistically Oriented Language Surveys.” The Linguistic Reporter: Newsletter of the Centre for Applied Linguistics. Pa. (1-3).

Ferguson, W.J. (2008). The benefits and perils of knowing “a little bit” of Spanish when communicating with Spanish-speaking patients. Health Affairs, 27(6), 1695- 1700.

Flores, G. (2006). Language barriers to health care in the United States. The New England Journal of Medicine, 355(3), 229-230.

Gerrish, K., Chau, R., Sobowale, A., & Birks, E. (2004). Bridging the language barrier: the use of interpreters in primary care nursing. Health and Social Care in the Community, 12(5), 407-413.doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2524.2004.00510.

Hall C (1998) Vaccination may trigger disease linked to autism. The Daily Telegraph, 27.

Henriksen K, Battles JB, Keyes MA. Improving patient safety through provider communication strategy enhancements 2008.

Hsieh, E. (2007). Interpreters as co-diagnosticians: Overlapping roles and services between providers and interpreters.Social Science and Medicine, 64, 924-937. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2006.10.015.

Woloshin, S., Schwartz, L. M., Katz, S. J., & Welch, H. G. (1997). Is language a barrier to the use of preventive services? Journal of General Internal Medicine

Ong, L. M., de Haes, J. C., et al. (1995). Doctor-patient communication: a review of the literature. Social Science and Medicine, 40(7), 903-918.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2020 International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding (IJMMU) ISSN 2364-5369
Copyright © 2014-2018 IJMMU. All rights reserved.