What Communication Barriers Are Likely to Be Found in the Health Care Field?

Updated July 19, 2017

Communication barriers in the health care field make it difficult for providers and patients to take full advantage of health care resources. Medical information begins as a method of communication between researchers, doctors, scientists, nurses and other trained medical professionals. Health care professionals eventually use this information to communicate with patients and the many barriers they encounter make it difficult to properly translate complex medical information. Individuals have varying levels of literacy and comprehension which adds to the barriers in the health care field.

Cultural Barriers

Cultural barriers in the health care field require health care professionals to adapt to different racial and ethnic populations. People have varying language capabilities and ethnic preferences, and these differences present communication challenges. The cultural barriers require a thorough understanding of cultural differences, media preferences and language requirements for multiple ethnicities.

Underserved Populations

Under-served populations primarily include people from lower socio-economic populations and they suffer from lack of comprehensible health information. Their understanding of the health care system limits their ability to comprehend how the system works, and the underserved populations require more intensive one-on-one communication. People in underserved populations often have the greatest need for health care services, and this presents greater challenges for providers since they place greater demands on communication processes.

Health Literacy

Health literacy involves the ability to understand medical terms and health care information, and it is a barrier in the health care field. Many people have trouble communicating personal health information to doctors and they lack a clear understanding of the health information they receive. A patient's lack of health literacy makes it more difficult for providers to properly diagnose, treat and manage patient health, and deters individuals from following a prescribed plan of care. Health care providers encounter daily barriers when they communicate with people who have limited understanding of health care terms, and stressful situations during a health crisis create greater barriers to literacy in the health care field.

Vulnerable Populations

Vulnerable populations include the uninsured, racial minorities, the elderly and people diagnosed with chronic disease, and many of them encounter barriers in the health care field. They usually require the highest level of services but are unable to take advantage of health care because of their knowledge barriers and poor health. They experience lower health care quality and poorer health outcomes because doctors are often unable to identify illness and disease early enough to effectively intervene. Vulnerable populations typically avoid the health care system due to the many perceived barriers.


The fear of violating privacy and confidentiality may be a barrier for providers who limit the use of valuable electronic communication. The Health Information Privacy and Portability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) outlines very specific privacy and confidentiality regulations for all health care professionals and institutions.The use of media to communicate directly with patients increases the risks of violating HIPAA regulations, and exposes medical professionals to higher risks of litigation from patients. Health care providers who collect, store and provide health information electronically increase their exposure by inadvertently releasing confidential private health information; therefore, they may avoid communicating electronically.

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About the Author

Rhonda Day has written for the health care industry since 1985, creating content for a major national health insurance company. She currently produces pieces for a variety of clinical and non-clinical websites. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Averett University.