Culturally Appropriate Geriatric Care: Assessment

Use of Interpreters

Cultural competence and linguistic competence are important components in order to provide effective health care to Vietnamese older adults.

  • Cultural competence is the willingness to understand and respond to diversity. It is also the continuous development and promotion of skills and practices through training, self assessment and implementation of policies and objectives, to improve services to diverse populations.
  • Linguistic competence as defined by the office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of health and Human Services (1999) is the “skills to communicate effectively in the native language, or dialect of the targeted population, taking into account general educational level, literacy and language preferences.”

Proper interpretative service is vital to providing quality health care to Vietnamese older adults. It is very important to provide cultural and linguistic competence in aging services because more Vietnamese older adults are non-English or limited English speaking in comparison to younger Vietnamese (Jackson, 1998).

Interpreters must be adept in Western and Vietnamese cultures, medical concepts, beliefs, vocabulary and physical examination procedures (Hoang et al., 1982). Interpreters need to be certified and trained in order to provide proper interpretative service.

Examples of improper interpretative assistance includes, but are not limited to, interpretation through family or friends-especially children, untrained bilingual staff (e.g., janitors, secretaries, security guards etc.) or community volunteers. Improper interpretation may often result in mis-perceptions and mis-understandings thereby compromising the quality of care. For example, a Vietnamese older adult may complain of feeling “hot” and a non-certified/untrained interpreter may literally translate this complaint as being “hot” and feverish thus leading to erroneous treatment of the illness.

The long term savings in financial and human costs of providing quality health care interpretation are enormous in spite of short term costs since adequately trained interpreters can lessen common issues that arise during bilingual clinical encounters such as bad paraphrasing, impatience, lack of linguistic equivalence, interpreter beliefs, ethnocentrism and role conflicts.