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Lost in translation

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2009 - Spring


Even as the number of Americans with limited English-language proficiency has continued to grow, many physicians try to get by with their own limited foreign-language skills or by relying on a patient’s friend or family member, according to research conducted in part by the School of Public Health.

The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in December, found that increasing the use of interpreters by hospital physicians will require “substantial” changes in hospital practice. “Residents found it difficult to change their practice, despite misgivings about the quality of care provided,” said Lisa Diamond, M.D., M.P.H., a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and lead author of the study, who is now at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute in California. Research has shown that language barriers can lead to decreased access to preventive services, poor understanding of instructions for medications, longer hospital stays and an increased risk of medical errors and misdiagnoses.

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