Expats and the challenges of getting health care abroad
Receiving proper medical treatment can be hard in your own country. It is even harder when you’re an expat who is already dealing with the stress of living abroad.
To avoid dissatisfaction and ease the process of trust building, patients should remember that differences between them and their doctor are possible and try to show some understanding. Explaining to the doctor how their behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable is also an option, since doctors working with expats should be able to adapt their bedside manner to the patient. This way you will also be providing useful feedback and helping to improve the doctor’s service in general.
What do expats look for in a health care provider?
Apart from getting well, the most important factors for an expat seeking medical help, are the language of communication and the time a doctor will spend with them during an examination.
According to Carlos Rey, manager of Unidad Médica Angloamericana, a private bilingual clinic in Madrid, expats go to English speaking doctors for several reasons.
Everyone feels more comfortable when a doctor is able to give a diagnosis using medical terminology but explain it in words they can understand. When there is a language barrier this can be very hard to achieve.
“Patients who speak the local language will often go to an English speaking hospital for a second opinion or re-examination, even if English is not their first language, but they speak it better the local one”, Carlos told us.
“When you are in a foreign country you need to know what is wrong with you.” This is why expats spend “more time selecting a hospital or a doctor than they would back home.”
Also, they are willing to pay higher prices in order to be examined and diagnosed in a language they understand better. Even though some insurance companies may cover a part of the medical bill in a private clinic, many expatriates are ready to pay the full cost themselves if necessary, and go to an English speaking physician.
A successful doctor-patient relationship relies on empathy. Whether they realize it or not, expats expect that doctors will know how to approach them on an interpersonal level. However, it is not possible for one person to be aware of all the cultural peculiarities of every nation on the planet. This can lead to serious misunderstandings mostly on the part of the expat patients who, given the circumstances, are more vulnerable and prone to being critical. Carlos pointed out that “with the various nationalities, time spent with each patient remains key” to proper diagnosis and trust building.
If you are an expat in the Madrid area and you are looking for English speaking medical services, you can contact Unidad Médica Angloamericana.