Healthcare Providers Split on Whether to Start With English When Creating Materials in Other Languages

When creating education materials and programs in other languages, should healthcare providers start with an English language version, and then translate it into the languages spoken by their patients?

That’s a question that divided attendees at our free healthcare webinar, “How to Engage Patients from Multicultural Backgrounds.”

More than 200 healthcare providers attended last week’s webinar—most of them healthcare extenders, or non-MD patient-focused healthcare professionals, such as dietitians, health educators, pharmacists, social workers, and nurses. During the webinar, we asked attendees to answer an on-screen poll: “In translating education materials, one should first start with an English version, then translate to the appropriate languages.”

The results? 52% said false, and 48% said true.

“I guess you’re both right,” said panelist Zul Surani, who works on community outreach and partnerships at the University of Southern California’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. However, Surani drew a distinction between simply translating materials, and truly adapting them to meet the cultural needs of the community in question.

“In terms of developing materials and translating materials, at the heart of [our] approach is the community,” Surani said. “The community’s knowledge, attitudes, health literacy level—all of those things inform the development of materials. A lot of what we do with materials and programs is adaptation versus actual translation. In some cases we do have to translate materials, but our community partners always review what we’ve developed, so that we’re able to be more responsive and effective.”

The involvement of community partners is considered a best practice for developing culturally competent materials. However, healthcare providers are often unable to take this step.

In a recent HealthEd Academy research report highlighted at the webinar, only 39% of respondents said that they “often” or “sometimes” involve community partners or key stakeholders in the development of patient education materials. 28% said they never do.

A key takeaway of both the report and webinar is that involving community workers is one of the biggest opportunities for healthcare extenders to improve how well they reach patients from diverse backgrounds, and also make them feel more comfortable once they enter the healthcare provider’s office.

To learn more, view a full recording of the webinar on SurroundHealth.

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This blog was authored by Sarah Scalet, who is the Content Director for SurroundHealth.

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