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Transcending the language barrier: creation of a multilingual dermatology website

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Transcending the language barrier- creation of a multilingual dermatology website
Saba M Ali1, Michael R Hinckley MD2, Steven R Feldman MD PhD3
Dermatology Online Journal 13 (2): 3

1. Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Rootstown, OH 2. Department of Dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Winston-Salem, North Carolina 3. Center for Dermatology Research, Departments of Dermatology, Pathology and Public Health Sciences; Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Winston-Salem, North Carolina


In a linguistically diverse society, healthcare professionals must overcome the daunting task of effectively communicating with patients who speak a different language. In effort to aid healthcare professionals and their patients, an on-line dermatology patient education resource was created with links to various skin related topics in over 30 languages. The development of the on-line resource, key features of the information available on the website, and limitations experienced during its creation are discussed in the article.

It is estimated that 4000-6000 languages are spoken worldwide [1]. Of these, 322 are reportedly spoken in the U.S. [2], and according to the 2000 U.S. census, 47 million people speak a language other than English at home [3]. From 1990 to 2000 the number of non-English speakers increased from 2 million to 11.9 million [3]. This astounding growth of linguistic diversity poses a challenge to healthcare providers not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. The growing language barrier requires physicians to seek methods for effectively meeting the needs of their patients who speak other languages. The Internet has proven a popular source for patients to gain further understanding of disease processes and their treatment. Fifty five percent of adult American Internet users have utilized the Internet for such purposes [4]. The World Wide Web, if used properly, can serve as a powerful tool in disseminating a variety of patient educational resources in multiple languages.

The purpose of this project was to compile an extensive listing of current websites, detailing dermatologic patient information in multiple languages to provide healthcare professionals and patients efficient on-line access to dermatologic patient education material in multiple languages.

Initially, language selection was based on the 50 most widely spoken languages listing as of 2005 [5]. During the search process, it became evident that dermatology patient education could not be identified for all 50 languages, and some languages not on the list had available patient material. Such languages were added to our on-line resource. Yahoo!®, Google™, and Dogpile®, were the primary search engines used and queries included skin, multilingual, dermatology, patient, education, foreign, languages, Spanish, French, German, Chinese and so forth. The search was conducted in September 2006. Two international dermatology discussion groups (Dermchat and RxDerm-L) were used to contact dermatologists, some of whom provided websites in their respective languages that they have used for patient education. Once a list of dermatology patient education web links was generated, several of the links were verified as dermatology sources either by speakers of the respective language, or by the fact that an equivalent English translation of the material was available on the same site. Individuals involved with verification of the resources did not have specific linguistic training nor were they necessarily trained physicians.

An on-line resource was created and can be found at The website includes links to dermatologic patient education in 32 languages- Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Cambodian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Filipino, French, Greek, Hindi, Hmong, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Macedonian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Persian, Russian, Serbian, Singhalese, Somali, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese. Various dermatology topics are available including information about prevention, detection, and treatment of skin cancers; discussions on common skin conditions such as acne, herpes, tinea, and others; basic skin care; and essential tips for sun protection. Many of the links provide pdf file/brochures that can be printed and given to patients. Individuals may submit new links and information sheets to be included on the website.

Although websites were verified by individuals fluent in their respective languages, accuracy of the provided information could not be obtained since all individuals were not dermatologically trained. Another limitation was the overall scarcity in dermatology patient education material in non-English languages. Many of the widely spoken world languages could not be represented because of lack of available information. The use of English based search engines such as Yahoo!® and Google™ eliminates a number of websites that are formatted purely in the different language without English translation. Using non-English search engines was attempted, as a means to include more links, but this was not easy because of difficulty navigating these purely non- English websites. Also with the ever-evolving nature of the Internet, website change is a constant phenomenon. Links selected during our search were available and free at the time, but depending on the individual websites this can change.

We have developed a novel, comprehensive, on-line resource providing links to dermatology patient education in over 30 languages for physicians and their multilingual patients. The potential for others to provide new submissions to the website will ensure a growing collection of patient education material.

The Center for Dermatology Research is supported by an educational grant from Galderma Laboratories, L.P.


1. Shetter, William Z. How many languages are there in the world? (accessed September 2006).

2. U.S English Foundation Inc. home page. (accessed September 2006).

3. U.S Census Bureau. (accessed September 2006).

4. PEW Internet. (accessed September 2006).

5. (accessed September 2006).

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