‘Take two aspirin and call me manana’

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Medical phrasebooks address country’s growing diversity

Harvard Medical School is attempting to bridge the language barriers that sometimes arise in medical settings. A set of three medical phrasebooks was first offered in 1999 in three different languages: Communicating with the Patient during Urgent Care, Communicating with the Patient on Work Rounds, and Communicating with the Patient during Review of Systems. All three are translated into Cantonese, Haitian Creole, and Spanish. Each phrasebook consists of a list of yes-or-no questions with their phonetic pronunciations. With a shake of the head or a nod of assent a patient can tell a doctor if it hurts and where. Although phrasebooks in other languages abound, ones that address medically specific questions are scarce, if they exist at all.