Recent Blog Articles

Harvard Health Blog

Lost in translation: Getting your doctor to be fluent in “patient”

Published: January 06, 2017


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


David rainey
February 24, 2017

Hello Paul,
The tips you have shown are very useful. Your tips will help people a lot to concern a doctor. Very informative post.
Thanks for sharing!!
BTW CHECKOUT this site Dammann Translation ( for translations they provide really good services.

Dana Blankschtein Tilkin
February 23, 2017

I can definitely relate to this!! This is such a terrific article !! I really appreciate your sensitivity and attention to folks where English is not their first language and tending to cross-cultural differences!

English is my third language but I learned to speak it as a small child so only really encounter issues when I take my mother to the doctor. I accompany her at least twice a week and act as a translator in part because English is her fourth language and she learned it later in life, she has mild cognitive impairment and is also hard of hearing.

I have had providers condescend to her because she has a very pronounced accent. She very much understands what they are saying. She just requires a little bit more time for processing.

If I could give my two cents to some providers I would ask them to address the patient directly and not just the individual who is helping translate. I know how demoralizing it has felt for my mother when she has been rendered invisible.

I would say on both ends keep checking in to ensure understanding.

This is more applicable to the population I work with but be mindful if folks are hard of hearing/have visual impairments!

Usha Jacob
January 27, 2017

Thank you so much. The article is very informative.

Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS
January 13, 2017

There is such a thing as medical record overload. For example bringing notes from every Emergency Department visit for a headache may not be particularly useful. When there are a lot of records, categorizing them and making folders can be useful . Previous lab tests, imaging studies, and office notes divided by specialty are broad categories that can be used. Also, all records may not be reviewed during a single appointment due to time constraints, so highlighting the most pertinent things in your record for the doctor may be useful.

Megan Y.
January 11, 2017

great article! Since you are a specialist in headache, how much medical history do you want patients to have “in hand” versus the information pertaining to the main issue?

Commenting has been closed for this post.