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How do hospitalised patients with Turkish migration background estimate their language skills and their comprehension of medical information – a prospective cross-sectional study and comparison to native patients in Germany to assess the language barrier and the need for translation

Arnd Giese1*, Müberra Uyar1, Haci Halil Uslucan2, Stefan Becker3 and Bernhard Ferdinand Henning1

Author Affiliations

1 Central Patient Admission Unit/Emergency Department, Marienhospital Herne, Ruhr-University Bochum Medical Centre, Hölkeskampring 40, Herne 44625, Germany

2 Stiftung Zentrum für Türkeistudien und Integrationsforschung, Altendorfer Straße 3, Essen 45127, Germany

3 Department of Internal Medicine I, Marienhospital Herne, Ruhr-University Bochum Medical Centre, Hölkeskampring 40, Herne 44625, Germany

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:196  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-196

Published: 28 May 2013



Today more than two million people with Turkish migration background live in Germany making them the largest ethnic minority in the country. Data concerning language skills and the perception of medical information in hospitalised patients with Turkish migration background (T) are scarce. Our study is the first to gather quantitative information on this important subject.


T and hospitalised German patients without migration background (G) of our university hospital were prospectively included into a cross-sectional study and completed a questionnaire - each group in the appropriate language (T: Turkish, G: German).


121 T and 121 G were included. Groups significantly differed in age (T: 44.9 ± 17.8, G: 56.9 ± 16.7y) and proportion of males (T: 37.2, G: 54.5%) but not regarding the proportion of college graduates (T: 19.3, G: 15.7%). The majority of T was born in Turkey (71%) and is of Turkish nationality (66%). 74% of T speak mainly Turkish at home; however, 73% speak German at work. 74.4% of T self-rated their German linguistic proficiency as “average” or better while 25.6% reported it as “very bad” or “bad”. 10.7% of T need translation in order to pursue everyday activities. T were significantly less satisfied with the physician’s information on disease and estimated to understand significantly less of what the physician told them: 46.3% of T estimated their reception of the physician’s information to be “average” or worse. 43.3% of T had the impression that it would have helped them “much” or “very much” to be aided by an interpreter at the hospital. The information transmitted while giving informed consent to invasive medical procedure was judged to be “mostly” or “completely” sufficient by the majority of T (76%) and G (89.8%). In this setting 37 of 96 T (38.5%) reported being helped by an interpreter – in most cases (64.9%) a family member.


Although the majority of patients with Turkish migration background have spent most of their lives in Germany (28.94 ± 10.41y) a large part of this population has limited German language skills and difficulties obtaining medical information when hospitalised.

Language barrier; Language skills; Turkish migration background; Turkish migrants; Germany; University hospital; Translation; Interpreter; Provision of information; Invasive procedures; Consent to treatment; School education; Hospitalised patients