General practitioners' experiences in consultations with foreign language patients after the introduction of a user's fee for professional interpretation: a qualitative interview study

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BACKGROUND: In 2018, an amendment to the Danish Health Care Act was passed making it a requirement for patients not proficient in Danish to pay for interpretation services in health care settings. Thereafter there has been a drastic decline in the use of professional interpreters, especially in general practice. We aimed to investigate the experiences of general practitioners (GPs) in establishing an understanding with these patients in consultations, without the presence of a professional interpreter.

METHODS: The study was qualitative, based on semi-structured interviews with nine purposively selected GPs. Analysis was by interpretative phenomenological analysis.

RESULTS: The GPs said that after the amendment was passed, the patients chose to almost exclusively use family members or friends as ad hoc interpreters, or they attended consultations with no interpreter present at all. The GPs experienced that the use of family interpreters caused specific problems, due to both their relationship with the patient and their lack of professional interpretation skills. If no mediator was present the GPs perceived the establishment of understanding as extremely challenging. This was particularly the case if patients had chronic conditions, mental or psychosocial problems or if cultural barriers were present. According to the GPs, the challenges were not exclusively restricted to a lack of language translation, but could also involve intertwined cultural barriers or social problems. The impairment in mutual understanding had different consequences, and led to poorer treatment at many levels in health care. The lack of access to a professional interpreter also presented the GP with ethical and legal dilemmas.

CONCLUSIONS: The GPs experienced that the changes in interpretation provision for patients in health care had led to professional interpretation being almost absent from general practice settings for patients subject to the fee. This led to several communication challenges, insufficient understanding in consultations, and poorer treatment of these, often very vulnerable, patients. The situation could, however, also involve the risk of epistemic injustice. The GPs experienced the situation as very unsatisfactory; it both comprised their ability to exercise their professionalism and their ethical obligations and restricted their legal rights.

TidsskriftBMC Primary Care
Udgave nummer1
Antal sider11
StatusUdgivet - 2022

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