Expat medical problems made worse by language barriers

Published:  11 Jul at 6 PM
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One of the major expat concerns is the adequacy of local health systems in the host country, particularly if emigration includes the children of the family.

Moving abroad and settling into an unfamiliar country with a young family is a stressful experience at the best of times, made even more difficult when health problems occur. Even if comprehensive health insurance has been provided as part of a salary package, finding the right medical practitioner can be complicated by language issues.

It’s easy to lose confidence in a diagnosis or suggested treatment when there’s a language barrier, even in Europe where most medical professionals have a grasp of the English language. For example, English is well understood in the Spanish public health system and medical care is mostly 21st century, but most local doctors find it tricky to explain matters to non-Spanish speakers.

Private medical insurance is the best idea, but can be costly, especially for British retirees living on a measly UK pension. Returning to the UK for treatment is now a dubious option, and learning the local language is the most practical way forward for those who can’t afford a private health plan.

For the increasing number of expats working in China, however, learning Chinese against the possibility of hospitalisation might be one challenge too far. Luckily, for those living in Shanghai, there are almost 200 foreign doctors now registered to practice in the city, most of whom are found at private clinics and medical centres.

It seems that locals who’ve worked or studied overseas as well as the expat community are taking advantage of the trend towards using foreign medical professionals. One reason is the comprehensive explanations given in answer to the Western practice of questioning what’s being done regarding medical conditions and the best treatment.
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