A needless barrier to good patient care
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 22 million Americans have limited proficiency in English, a 53 percent increase from 1990. Language barriers in health care settings can lead to poor understanding of instructions for medications, longer hospital stays and an increased risk of medical errors and misdiagnoses.
Despite these dangers, many physicians fail to use readily available interpreters with their non–English speaking patients, according to a study published in the February issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“It has become acceptable for a physician to rely on his or her own limited language skills, hand gestures or on the convenience of a patient’s family member instead of calling a professional interpreter, even when one is available,” says lead author Lisa C. Diamond, M.D., now of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, who initiated the study as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the School of Medicine.
“The study shows that there will be no easy fix,” says Elizabeth H. Bradley, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of public health, who co-authored the new report along with Research Scientist Leslie Curry, Ph.D., M.P.H.. “But clearly this is an important and widespread problem.”