Shifting Perspectives

Shifting Perspectives

Breathe in your own Language

For many people, asthma is a disease that can be quite easily controlled through proper usage of medication and avoiding irritants. But if you don’t understand how to take your medication or what irritants to avoid, asthma can quickly become a very serious problem.

That was Dr. Mark FitzGerald’s concern when he realized that entire communities in Vancouver were not receiving the clear communication they needed. “Simply translating existing materials into other languages isn’t enough,” says Dr. FitzGerald, UBC Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Co-Director at the Institute for Heart and Lung Health. “We must take into account the attitudes and perspectives of the audience, which are sometimes quite different from those of the medical professionals who create the material.”

Rather than complain about the current material available, Dr. FitzGerald and Senior Health Evaluation Scientist Iraj Poureslami set out to create something better. Through focus groups within various ethnic communities they gained insights into what was missing in current communications and how to more effectively communicate and reach these groups.

The discoveries were surprising to say the least. Punjabis revealed that they are often inclined to hide their asthma because it’s associated with tuberculosis, a stigmatized disease in their culture. Chinese people expressed that they would be more willing to quit smoking if it is harming a loved one.

Armed with a stronger intercultural understanding, Dr. FitzGerald and Dr. Poureslami created ‘community videos’ in Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin featuring actual focus group participants as they acted out scenarios conveying messages about asthma management. Patients from these communities who watched the videos dramatically improved their inhaler skills and their understanding of the steps they needed to take to control their condition. The CIHR funded study showed significant improvement in patients ability to manage their asthma at the end of the study period.

“We’re not wasting their time with medical mumbo-jumbo,” says Dr. FitzGerald who sees asthma patients at Vancouver General Hospital’s Lung Centre. “We’re speaking in the patients’ own languages – not just linguistically, but culturally.”

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Dr. Mark FitzGerald Credit: Martin Dee
Dr. Mark FitzGerald Credit: Martin Dee

“We’re speaking in the patients’ own languages – not just linguistically, but culturally.”

Dr. Mark FitzGerald Credit: Martin Dee


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