We use language to achieve understanding, and language barriers can have major health consequences for patients with serious illness. While ethnic minorities are more likely to experience social inequalities in health and health care, communicative processes in language-discordant cancer care remain unexplored. This study aimed to investigate communication between patients with cancer and limited Danish proficiency and oncology clinicians, with special emphasis on how linguistic barriers influenced patient involvement and decision-making. 18 participant observations of clinical encounters were conducted. Field notes and transcriptions of audio recordings were analyzed, and three themes were identified: Miscommunication and uncertainty as a basic linguistic condition; Impact of time on patient involvement; Unequally divided roles and (mis)communication responsibilities. The results showed that professional interpreting could not eradicate miscommunication but was crucial for achieving understanding. Organizational factors related to time and professional interpreting limited patient involvement. Without professional interpreting, patients’ relatives were assigned massive communication responsibilities. When no Danish-speaking relatives partook, clinicians’ ethical dilemmas further increased as did patient safety risks. Language barriers have consequences for everyone who engages in health communication, and the generated knowledge about how linguistic inequality manifests itself in clinical practice can be used to reduce social inequalities in health and health care.

TidsskriftJournal of Health Communication
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)187-199
StatusUdgivet - 3. mar. 2024


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