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Overcoming Patient-Provider Language Barrier: A Project Designed to Teach Health Professionals Afaan Oromoo Language

Background: Provider-patient miscommunication in the health care setting can have fatal consequences. It is especially a common occurrence in multilingual countries like Ethiopia. Yet, providers in such settings tend to rely on untrained ad hoc interpreters with no systemic solution in place designed to solve the problem. Our quality improvement project aims to evaluate one such intervention deployed in a high-volume tertiary hospital, Saint Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College (SPHMMC).

Method: A baseline assessment was conducted to assess the language mix of patients presenting to the hospital. Medical Afaan Oromoo (MAO) project was then designed to teach Afaan Oromoo to health care professionals in a 3-month period. The effectiveness of the project was evaluated with standardized pre and post training assessment tools.

Findings: The baseline assessment showed the majority of patients seeking care at the hospital speak Afaan Oromoo (56.1%). And more than half of these patients (55.4%) were unable to speak Amharic (the working language). Only 8.9% of health care providers were able to communicate with Afaan Oromoo. The language training project was able to improve language proficiency from a baseline of Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale level 0 to level 2 in 96% of trainees.

Conclusion: There was a substantial discrepancy in self-reported Afaan Oromoo language communication ability between providers and patients at the hospital. Although the language training program brought about a significant change in language proficiency (Level 0 to 2 in 96% of trainees), further research is needed to ascertain its impact in actual Afaan Oromoo language incongruous clinical setting.


Thomas Mekuria Gebre, Tadesse Urgie, Tilahun Tilala, Ferid Abbas, and Biruck Gashawbeza

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