There has been an increase in the number of foreign physicians who are now practicing medicine in the United States. These physicians come from a variety of countries and they speak many different languages, but what they all have in common, is the need to speak clearly so that their colleagues and patients can understand what they are saying.
GOOD SPEECH CRUCIAL FOR PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS
For a physician, precise and intelligible communication skills are crucial for their professional success. When communicating with colleagues, if a physician’s speech is hard to understand, there is an increased chance of miscommunication and this can have serious consequences. When a physician is consulting with another physician about a patient’s care, an accurate and well-articulated history, treatment plan, and prognosis need to be communicated. This process can often be hindered by a strong accent, marked by many sound substitutions, which cause words and/or phrases to be unintelligible. When a physician, who is a non-native speaker, is communicating with staff, misunderstandings can result in inaccurate medication instructions which can be life threatening for a patient. Staff may be unwilling to question the physician, even if they are having trouble understanding his or her speech.
PATIENTS MAY HAVE DIFFICULTY UNDERSTANDING PHYSICIAN
Quite often when a patient visits a physician, they are not feeling well; they may be anxious about their health and distracted by concerns about their medical condition. Medical terminology is often overwhelming for patients, even under the best of circumstances. However, when a physician – who is a non-native speaker with a strong accent pattern – attempts to communicate a diagnosis and treatment plan for a patient who is ill, there is a greater chance that the patient will be confused, unable to process the information and have difficulty accurately understanding treatment instructions. The patient may be embarrassed or unwilling to ask the doctor to repeat what they have said. In the case of elderly patients, who may also have hearing problems in addition to their infirmity, trying to understand the physicians’ accented speech patterns can be especially challenging. The results of miscommunication in this situation can be dire.
SPEECH PATHOLOGIST CAN HELP INCREASE PHYSICIANS’ INTELLIGIBILITY
Working with a Speech Pathologist/Dialect Coach who specializes in accent reduction can increase the chances that a non-native physician can increase his or her speech intelligibility. A phonetic analysis by the Speech Pathologist/Dialect Coach can isolate the sounds that are contributing to the accent pattern. Working on each sound, starting with those that are obviously contributing most to the physician’s unintelligible speech is the first step in reducing a strong accent. However, to see more immediate results, the Speech Pathologist can target the professional vocabulary that the physician uses on a daily basis. The Speech Pathologist will train the physician to hear the difference between his or her incorrect pronunciation and the correct pronunciation of the medical terms that are crucial in their communication with staff, colleagues and patients. By recording the session, the physician can practice the standard pronunciation of these medical terms on a daily basis. During the speech improvement sessions, the physician will be asked to use specific medical terminology in structured conversations in role-playing situations that accurately reflect the manner in which the physician would use these terms during the course of his or her day. Using this method, the physicians’ intelligibility will increase rapidly and listener comprehension will improve significantly. Good speech can be life saving.