Supporting CALD Australians during the pandemic

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

17/06/2020 2:08:58 PM

A new RACGP resource is designed to help GPs support patients who need an interpreter during telehealth appointments.

Older man on the phone
Navigating a new telehealth system has not been without its challenges, particularly for patients from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The rapid expansion of telehealth has proven to be invaluable in ensuring GPs can deliver care to patients while keeping both parties safe from coronavirus.
Navigating a new system, however, has not been without its challenges, particularly for patients from non-English speaking backgrounds.
But with the use of an interpreter, Dr Gillian Singleton, Medical Director of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub and co-host of RACGP podcast Generally Speaking, says that need not be the case.
‘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,’ she said.
‘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.’
To support GPs in providing high-quality care to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians, the RACGP has launched a new resource with guidance on delivering telehealth consultations with patients who require an interpreter.
‘This guide is an important resource to help reduce health inequities by supporting people from linguistically diverse backgrounds access quality primary healthcare,’ Dr Singleton said.
‘The way GPs conduct these consultations can make all the difference in gaining the trust of our patients and providing the best possible standard of care.’
CALD Australians are known to face multiple barriers when accessing healthcare.
With one in five (21%) people in Australia speaking a language other than English at home, being aware of a language barrier, and working to overcome it, is a key component to ensuring better health outcomes.
‘It’s difficult to have any health concerns properly attended to if you feel you can’t clearly communicate what is troubling you,’ Dr Singleton said.
‘Health literacy and understanding how to navigate our health system can also prove a challenge.
‘The good news is that GPs can be fantastic advocates for our patients and this includes emphasising the need for interpreters when we refer our patients for other specialist care.’

Research has shown use of professional interpreters is associated with improved clinical care, raising the quality to be almost equal to that of patients without language barriers.
For all CALD patients, Dr Singleton says it can be both useful and respectful for GPs to offer use of an interpreter, even if they seem to be proficient in English.  
‘People can be embarrassed or ashamed to ask, so I think it’s a good idea to be proactive,’ she said.
‘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?”’
All GPs are eligible to receive a free code to access the Federal Government’s Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS) Doctor’s Priority Line.
The RACGP’s new resource guides GPs on how to utilise the service, with a simple breakdown:

  • how to access and use the TIS Doctor’s Priority Line
  • booking a TIS in advance (recommended if the language required is uncommon)
  • the importance of speaking slowly, talking to the patient not the interpreter (ie using first-person language) and allowing time for the interpreter to translate the information.
Patients from non-English-speaking backgrounds may also need the assistance of an interpreter to book a telephone appointment with the practice receptionist.
‘Ours is such a rich and diverse nation,’ Dr Singleton said.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to adapt and we need to look out for people who speak a primary language other than English.’
The ‘Telehealth consultations with patients requiring an interpreter’ resource is available on the RACGP website. GPs can also access the telephone and video consultations in general practice flowcharts.
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