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Interruptions and resistance: A comparison of medical consultations with family and trained interpreters


  • Leanza, Yvan
  • Boivin, Isabelle
  • Rosenberg, Ellen


While working with trained interpreters in health care is strongly recommended, few studies have looked at the subtle differences in communication processes between trained and "ad hoc" interpreters, such as adult family members. Using Habermas' Communicative Action Theory (CAT) which distinguishes between the Lifeworld (contextually grounded experiences) and the System (decontextualized rules), we analysed 16 family practice consultations with interpreters, 10 with a trained interpreter and 6 with a family member. We found clear differences in communication patterns between consultations with a trained interpreter and consultations with a family member as interpreter. In both cases the Lifeworld is frequently interrupted and the outcomes are similar: the Lifeworld is rarely heard and acknowledged by the physician. Physicians interrupt the Voice of the Lifeworld significantly more with a trained interpreter than with a family member. Family members and trained interpreters also interrupt the Voice of the Lifeworld just as much. However, these interruptions differ in their functions (both physicians and interpreters interrupt to keep the interview on track to meet the biomedical goals; family interpreters interrupt to control the agenda). We have identified patients' resistance when physicians ignore their Lifeworld, but this resistance is usually only transmitted by professional interpreters (and not by family interpreters). We identified specific risks of working with family interpreters: imposing their own agenda (vs. the patient's one) and controlling the consultation process. Even if the collaboration with trained interpreters becomes more widespread, work with "ad hoc" interpreters will continue to occur. Therefore, institutions should provide training and organizational support to help physicians and patients to achieve communication in all situations.

Suggested Citation

  • Leanza, Yvan & Boivin, Isabelle & Rosenberg, Ellen, 2010. "Interruptions and resistance: A comparison of medical consultations with family and trained interpreters," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(12), pages 1888-1895, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:12:p:1888-1895

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Green, Judith & Free, Caroline & Bhavnani, Vanita & Newman, Tony, 2005. "Translators and mediators: bilingual young people's accounts of their interpreting work in health care," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(9), pages 2097-2110, May.
    2. Greenhalgh, Trisha & Robb, Nadia & Scambler, Graham, 2006. "Communicative and strategic action in interpreted consultations in primary health care: A Habermasian perspective," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(5), pages 1170-1187, September.
    3. Barry, Christine A. & Stevenson, Fiona A. & Britten, Nicky & Barber, Nick & Bradley, Colin P., 2001. "Giving voice to the lifeworld. More humane, more effective medical care? A qualitative study of doctor-patient communication in general practice," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 53(4), pages 487-505, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bridges, Susan & Drew, Paul & Zayts, Olga & McGrath, Colman & Yiu, Cynthia K.Y. & Wong, H.M. & Au, T.K.F., 2015. "Interpreter-mediated dentistry," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 197-207.
    2. Lo, Ming-Cheng Miriam & Bahar, Roxana, 2013. "Resisting the colonization of the lifeworld? Immigrant patients' experiences with co-ethnic healthcare workers," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 68-76.


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