Language barriers in healthcare delivery

A focus on expatriate healthcare providers in Ghanaian hospitals


  • Mercy Akrofi Ansah University of Ghana
  • Mercy Adzo Klugah University of Ghana



communication accommodation, convergence, expatriate doctors, healthcare, language barrier, multilingualism


The relevance of language for quality healthcare delivery cannot be overemphasised. Within the framework of communication accommodation theory, this paper discusses language barriers in expatriate doctor–patient communication in three state-owned hospitals in Ghana, and the strategies employed by the medical personnel to bridge communication gaps. The study design is qualitative and the data were obtained through semi-structured interviews with 16 expatriate doctors, three nurses and three patients. Furthermore, observation of five patient–doctor interactions was undertaken and notes taken. Both datasets were then analysed using the qualitative conventional content analysis approach. The findings revealed that the expatriate doctors employed convergence strategies such as ad hoc interpreters, gestures, picture charts and electronic dictionaries to deal with language barriers. The study is expected to stimulate further research into innovative ways of dealing with language barriers in expatriate doctor–patient interactions.

Author Biographies

Mercy Akrofi Ansah, University of Ghana

Mercy Akrofi Ansah received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Manchester, UK, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. Her research interests include description and documentation of less-studied languages, language use in multilingual contexts and biographical research. Her most recent book chapter is ‘Receiving justice in our mother tongue: The role of the court interpreter in Ghanaian law courts’ (2019, Sun Press). 

Mercy Adzo Klugah, University of Ghana

Mercy Adzo Klugah is a PhD candidate at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana and a Leiden ASA visiting fellow at the African Studies Centre, University of Leiden. She holds a Bachelor of Education in Arts and a Master of Philosophy in Ghanaian Languages and Linguistics from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Her research interests include language use in specific domains and language and culture. 


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How to Cite

Ansah, M. A., & Klugah, M. A. (2021). Language barriers in healthcare delivery: A focus on expatriate healthcare providers in Ghanaian hospitals. Communication and Medicine, 16(3), 201–213.