Many people who are not fluent in Spanish tend to revert to the simple “Hola” greeting. However, it is important to remember that “Hola” is a very casual greeting. In order to keep the professionalism and respect while communicating with Spanish-speaking patients, doctors should use more formal greetings such as “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes” until they are sure the patient feels completely comfortable around them. A good judge of when to start using “Hola” is to wait until the patient uses it first. “Buenas dias” can be used until , and then “Buenas tardes” becomes more appropriate. Also, once the comfort level is established, “Hola” can be used in conjunction with other greetings.
Addressing the patient
One way to show respect for patients is to address them formally. Examples include “senora,” “senortia,” “senor,” “joven,” etc. “Joven” is generally the term used to refer to young boys and represents their transition into adulthood.
Another significant way to show respect for a patient is to address them formally. The “usted” form of verbs should be used instead of the “tu” form in all situations unless/until the patient and doctor have a close and comfortable relationship.
Many Spanish-speaking people have two last names or “apellidos.” The first name is generally the father’s last name which is then followed by the mother’s last name. A married woman will most often keep both of her parent’s last names and add her husband’s father’s last name at the end. However, she may still be introduced by simply using her father’s last name. For example: If Margarita Carlos Garcia marries Geraldo Velasquez Marco, her name would become Margarita Carlos Garcia de Velasquez but she may still be referred to as Margarita Carlos de Velasquez or Señora Carlos. Children take on their mother’s maiden name followed by their father’s last name, so interestingly enough, when introduced, all members of the same family may appear to have different “apellidos.” Also, Latin Americans generally do not have a middle name, but rather may often have two first names or “nombres.”
Taking the patient’s history
It is important to be polite and not demanding when asking questions and taking patients’ histories. Non-Spanish-speakers may tend to use please, or “por favor,” often when asking questions. This may come off as forced or fake sounding. Other ways to soften up questions and politely get the answers needed are to use verbs such as “quisiera” and “poder” to express “would you like to share/tell me?” or “Could you share/tell me?”
When asking questions about drinking habits, the healthcare professional needs to be very specific. Many Spanish-speaking patients do not consider beer or wine as alcohol. Beer is thought of as a refreshing drink and wine is an important part of many families’ meals. A way to specify alcohol consumption could be to ask: “¿Cuánta/o cerveza/vino toma?”
Often times, out of politeness or a show of respect a patient may act like they understand their physician when they really do not, especially when the physician is trying to speak a different language. Health care workers need to express how important it is that they understand each other. Patients should be told from the beginning that they can ask questions: “Puede preguntarme si tiene preguntas o duda” and that it is essential the physician and patient understand each other: “Es importante que nos comprendemos.” Also, the physician should not be afraid to ask questions themselves such as “Puede repitelo?” o “Puede explicarla?”
All temperatures should be given in both Fahrenheit and Celsius scales, as many Spanish-speakers are much more familiar with the Celsius scale.
Many expressions in English require some interpretation. These may be quite familiar expressions with English-speakers such as: "Can I have your name?" or "I'll give you a ring." However, Spanish when translated to Spanish, such expressions are taken much more literally and may cause confusion. In general, Spanish is a much more literal language and one needs to take precautions when translating common English expressions.
It is important to ask the patient how they wish to
communicate. Although there are quite a few non-English speaking individuals in
Diagnosing and Treatment
Although discussing diagnoses with patients is often strictly factual, it is important to remember that in many Spanish-speaking cultures people feel a closeness to those that they trust. As a healthcare worker delivering news of diagnoses, one should show compassion and empathy for their patients to show that they do care and to gain the trust of their patients.
Many Hispanic patients consider hospitalization to be the best care possible for any condition. If the patient does not need to be hospitalized, it is important to express that they can be treated effectively and efficiently as an outpatient. Patients should not feel as if they are receiving less-than-adequate care if they are not admitted to the hospital.
If home treatment is required for the patient, one should keep in mind that the home is a very intimate place for people, especially Hispanic people. The home healthcare provider should greet and acknowledge each and every person present in the home and avoid making small talk about anything having to do with the home such as décor. Many Hispanic patients would find this very offensive when they are bringing someone new into their home.
Using an interpreter is a necessity in many situations. Especially when the physician or healthcare worker has no knowledge of the language. It is important to know that there are various methods of interpretation. Simultaneous interpretation occurs when the interpreter listens to one person in one language, and at the same time speaks to the other person in the other language. Consecutive interpretation occurs when the speaker pauses briefly to allow the interpreter to repeat what was just said in a different language. Lastly, paraphrasing involves the interpreter listening to the entire conversation or statement and then giving a summary of what was said. When using an interpreter, the physician, patient and interpreter should discuss and decide on an interpretation method before proceeding.
Expressions and gestures
Healthcare professionals should be aware that many native Spanish-speakers are more expressive when they talk, using more hand gestures and often stating a person's name when speaking to them. Personal space is not valued as much in many Hispanic cultures as it is in Anglo cultures. Also, it is customary in many Spanish cultures to stand in a much closer proximity to the people they are talking to. It is customary to shake hands and occasionally touch the other person, as well.
The term Latino American can refer to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Their roots can lie in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, South America, and Cuba. Although all these backgrounds share the common language of Spanish, they all have very unique cultures, histories, and beliefs. These differences should be recognized and respected in order to prevent generalization of all Latino Americans into one group.