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AGS 2024: Bridging the language barrier in eye care

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David Sola-Del Valle, MD, sat down with David Hutton of Ophthalmology Times to discuss his talk at the annual American Glaucoma Society meeting held in Huntington Beach, about the importance of bridging the language barrier in patients who may not be fluent in English.

David Sola-Del Valle, MD, sat down with David Hutton of Ophthalmology Times to discuss his talk at the annual American Glaucoma Society meeting held in Huntington Beach, about the importance of bridging the language barrier in patients who may not be fluent in English.

Video Transcript

Editor's note - This transcript has been edited for clarity.

David Hutton:

I'm David Hutton of Ophthalmology Times. The American Glaucoma Society is holding its annual meeting in Huntington Beach, California. At the meeting, Dr. David Sola-Del Valle made a presentation titled "Speaking a Patient's Language." Thanks a lot for joining us today. This certainly is an interesting topic. So tell us a little more about it.

David Sola-Del Valle, MD:

No, absolutely. I was very excited when AGS, the American Glaucoma Society, decided to do a TED Talk series this year. And I immediately volunteered because I felt that I had a lot to share about my experience with a very diverse patient population that I've been treating in Boston for the past seven years or so. You know, I've noticed I've been very fortunate to be able to learn multiple languages and I've noticed that sometimes language, a patient's language can be a big barrier to glaucoma care.

And, you know, I speak Spanish as my first language. I speak Italian. I speak French. And all these languages have helped me connect with patients so much over the years. And I've noticed that sometimes those patients who don't speak English as a first language and speak some of these languages, when I actually am able to connect with them in their native language, they just, they just brighten up. They immediately are more willing to pursue surgery to save their eyesight, they're willing to comply with therapy better.

So that's really what inspired my talk. There were times in Boston where half my my patients were non-English speakers, were either Spanish speakers or French speakers or people from Haiti, patients from Haiti who spoke French. Even a small Italian-speaking contingent that i had in Boston. And it was so fascinating to see how different their treatment went when I was able to connect with them in their language. And basically, the talk discusses a few patient examples of how having that communication with them really changed their lives. One of the patients I discussed, was a Salvadorian woman who was essentially blind when she walked in my office, had not gained trust with any surgeon, I finally sat down with her explained everything. And she left six months later 20/20 in both eyes with better control of glaucoma.

So again, it's it's basically raising awareness of how important language barriers can be when we're talking about eye care. And especially when we're talking about glaucoma care. Because glaucoma even in English, it's really hard to explain to patients. Imagine having to use an interpreter, or having to use a family member. So basically, that's kind of the gist of the talk, is how important it is. And then towards the end of the talk, I tried to give everyone hints on what they can do, because I realize not everyone likes languages. Not everyone speaks four languages. So I also tried to make the talk connect with people in the audience who may not be able or are willing to learn language. I totally understand that. Me myself, I don't speak every language, right? No one can speak all the languages. So that's also what I tried to do in my talk is what can we do in the office even when we can't speak that patient's language fluently.

David Hutton:

Ultimately, how can improved communication lead to better outcomes for these patients?

David Sola-Del Valle, MD:

Absolutely. At the end of the day, that is really the key here. And this is why I wanted to give the talk is I just want again, I want to shine light on how big of an impact this can have on a patient's care when either we have a static interpreter and the patient's not really getting the information or we have a family member interpreting who may not be fully bilingual or we have a staff member who's maybe rushed because they're doing us a favor interpreting but they have to go back to work. And just all of us have to be more mindful of the big impact that can have on a patient because the patient may actually decline eye-saving surgery if we don't really play our cards right in those situations.

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