The public relations

work of the research project "Schmerz- und Krankheitsdarstellung II" is summarized on this page.


Summary: Pain and illness representation II
Many doctors rank medical interviews with patients with limited or no knowledge of German among their greatest communication challenges. For dealing with headaches, and hence the question of their successful medical treatment, depends substantially on communicative factors. The better the communication between doctors and patients regarding the history, the physical examination, the diagnosis, the proposed therapy, and the checking of therapeutic success, the better disease-related symptoms are alleviated. The FWF project "The representation of pain and illness II" conducted at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Vienna examined the special challenges and problems of such settings. Overall, 56 primary and control meetings between doctors and patients with limited German language skills were videotaped at the headache clinic of the Vienna General Hospital (AKH). Twenty of these conversations were mediated either by family members or by a professional interpreter.
It could be shown that it adds significantly to the success of the communication between doctors, patients and family interpreters, if varying and frequent procedures that promote and secure understanding are used (e.g. simple questions, no double issues or split questions, body language, repetition, reformulation, drawings and images). These procedures are particularly important in the conversations at issue, as the linguistic, cultural and subject-related knowledge background of the interlocutors diverges strongly.
However, it has also become clear that all parties involved in the conversation are overstrained by the current circumstances:
- The patients, who, despite limited knowledge of German, try to get their problems across and who instead become the object of conversation which is decided on;
- The family members, who are entrusted with the task of interpretation, although their neutrality and interpreting competence is missing;
- And the doctors, who despite visible efforts, under the current conditions in the health care system are overburdened with the additional requirement of ensuring that family members interpret adequately.
The difficulties in medical interviews with patients with limited or no knowledge of German have therefore to be seen as a structural problem. It should be met with explicit measures:  expansion and systematic use of professional interpreting services (the only form that guarantees equal opportunities for patients), exploitation of existing societal multilingualism (training courses to enhance the interpreting competence of multilingual staff) as well as a solid training for doctors to raise awareness of the specific requirements of medical interviews when family interpreters are involved.