RACGP launches new resource for non-English speaking patients

non-English speaking patients

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is introducing a new resource to support patients who need an interpreter for telehealth and telephone appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This guide is an important resource to help reduce health inequities by supporting people from linguistically diverse backgrounds access quality primary healthcare,” says RACGP spokesperson and Medical Director of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub Dr Gillian Singleton.

“I find it useful and respectful to always ask if my patients would prefer to use an interpreter, even if they seem to be proficient in English. People can be embarrassed or ashamed to ask and so I think it’s a good idea to be proactive.

“Little things can make an enormous difference, such as speaking to the patient not the interpreter. Instead of asking ‘can you ask the patient if the headaches have persisted since they last saw me in the practice?’ ask ‘have your headaches persisted since the last time I saw you for an appointment in the practice?’.

“Using an interpreter for consultations is a skill that definitely takes some practice and I understand the concerns of some GPs that it does take more time. However, the benefits of developing a strong rapport and working in partnership with your patient to more efficiently identify what is going on far outweigh any perceived downsides,” she says.

The resource includes the following information to help GPs undertake telehealth and telephone consultations with people from a CALD background:

  • The Australian Government’s Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS) has a Doctor’s Priority Line, and all GPs are eligible for a free TIS code.
  • How to access and use the TIS Doctor’s Priority Line when a GP is ready to undertake a consultation.
  • A TIS can be booked in advance – something that is recommended if the language required is not common.
  • Patients from non–English-speaking backgrounds may need the assistance of an interpreter both when they are booking a telephone appointment with the practice receptionist and when having the appointment with their GP.
  • The importance of speaking slowly, talking to the patient not the interpreter (i.e., using first person language) and allowing time for the interpreter to translate the information.

The RACGP’s telephone and video consultations in general practice flowchart also provides useful information for GPs on how best to conduct a telephone or telehealth consultation.