17 June 2020


RACGP supporting culturally and linguistically diverse patients during COVID-19

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is providing extra support for culturally and linguistically (CALD) diverse Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new resource has been launched to support patients who need an interpreter during telehealth and telephone appointments.

RACGP spokesperson and Medical Director of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub Dr Gillian Singleton said that the RACGP was doing all it could to help people from linguistically diverse backgrounds get the care and support they need.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic GPs across Australia have demonstrated impressive flexibility by rapidly adapting to expanded telehealth and telephone services for their patients.

“This guide is an important resource to help reduce health inequities by supporting people from linguistically diverse backgrounds access quality primary healthcare.

“The way GPs conduct these consultations can make all the difference in gaining the trust of our patients and providing the best possible standard of care.

“I find it useful and respectful to always ask if my patients would prefer to use an interpreter, even if they seem to be proficient in English. People can be embarrassed or ashamed to ask and so I think it's a good idea to be proactive.

“Little things can make an enormous difference, such as speaking to the patient not the interpreter. Instead of asking ‘can you ask the patient if the headaches have persisted since they last saw me in the practice?’ ask ‘have your headaches persisted since the last time I saw you for an appointment in the practice?’.

"Using an interpreter for consultations is a skill that definitely takes some practice and I understand the concerns of some GPs that it does take more time. However, the benefits of developing a strong rapport and working in partnership with your patient to more efficiently identify what is going on far outweigh any perceived downsides.”

Dr Singleton said that patients from all backgrounds should address their health concerns and contact their GP, even if they are unsure about using telehealth and telephone services.

“Now more than ever patients should reach out to their GPs to get the care and support they need. That includes patients with chronic conditions or those with new symptoms such as a lump or sudden weight loss.

“Do not put off seeing your GP during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are worried about your ability to communicate, there are excellent telehealth services featuring an interpreter available for those who need them. Language should not be a barrier to you consulting with your GP and looking after your health.

“If you are not confident using video technologies, an old fashioned phone will do just fine.”

Dr Singleton said that taking care of the health needs of Australians from a CALD background required careful consideration of the challenges some of these patients face.

“We know that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can face multiple barriers when accessing healthcare, including from their GP.

“That includes the obvious language barriers, it’s difficult to have any health concerns properly attended to if you feel you can’t clearly communicate what is troubling you.

"Health literacy and understanding how to navigate our health system can also prove a challenge. The good news is that GPs can be fantastic advocates for our patients and this includes emphasising the need for interpreters when we refer our patients for other specialist care.

“Ours is such a rich and diverse nation, with around one in five of us speaking a language other than English at home. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us all to adapt and we need to look out for people who speak a primary language other than English.”

The resource includes the following information to help GPs undertake telehealth and telephone consultations with people from a CALD background:

  • the Australian Government’s Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS) has a Doctor’s Priority Line, and all GPs are eligible for a free TIS code

  • how to access and use the TIS Doctor’s Priority Line when a GP is ready to undertake a consultation

  • a TIS can be booked in advance – something that is recommended if the language required is not common

  • patients from non–English-speaking backgrounds may need the assistance of an interpreter both when they are booking a telephone appointment with the practice receptionist and when having the appointment with their GP

  • the importance of speaking slowly, talking to the patient not the interpreter (i.e. using first person language) and allowing time for the interpreter to translate the information.

The RACGP’s telephone and video consultations in general practice flowchart also provides useful information for GPs on how best to conduct a telephone or telehealth consultation.

As part of the Expert Advice Matters campaign the RACGP has been urging all patients to take care of their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic and consult with their usual GP for any health concerns.


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Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

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Ally Francis

Media and Engagement Specialist