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Intercultural communication through the eyes of patients: experiences and preferences.

Paternotte, E., Dulmen, S. van, Bank, L., Seeleman, C.M., Scheele, F. Intercultural communication through the eyes of patients: experiences and preferences. International Journal of Medical Education: 2017, 7(8), p. 170-175.
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To explore patients’ preferences and experiences regarding intercultural communication which could influence the development of intercultural patient-centred communication training.

This qualitative study is based on interviews with non-native patients. Thirty non-native patients were interviewed between September and December 2015 about their preferences and experiences regarding communication with a native Dutch doctor. Fourteen interviews were established with an interpreter. The semi-structured interviews took place in Amsterdam. They were focused on generic and intercultural communication skills of doctors. Relevant fragments were coded by two researchers and analysed by the research team by means of thematic network analysis. Informed consent and ethical approval was obtained beforehand.

All patients preferred a doctor with a professional patient-centred attitude regardless of the doctor’s background. Patients mentioned mainly generic communication aspects, such as listening, as important skills and seemed to be aware of their own responsibility in participating in a consultation. Being treated as a unique person and not as a disease was also frequently mentioned. Unfamiliarity with the Dutch healthcare system influenced the experienced communication negatively. However, a language barrier was considered the most important problem, which would become less pressing once a doctor-patient relation was established.

Remarkably, patients in this study had no preference regarding the ethnic background of the doctor. Generic communication was experienced as important as specific intercultural communication, which underlines the marginal distinction between these two. A close link between intercultural communication and patient-centred communication was reflected in the expressed preference ‘to be treated as a person’.