Language Barriers May Hamper Pediatric Care

Many doctors rely on untrained interpreters for non-English-speaking families, study finds

TUESDAY, April 3, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Too often, American pediatricians rely on untrained interpreters to communicate with families who speak little or no English, according to a nationwide survey led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

"This is really an overlooked problem, given all that we know about the adverse health outcomes that can arise from miscommunication between physicians and their patients," study lead author Dr. Dennis Z. Kuo, a general pediatrics fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

The survey of more than 1,800 pediatricians found that 70 percent used a patient's bilingual family member to translate health information, and 58 percent used bilingual staff members. About 40 percent of pediatricians said they used professional interpreters, and 35 percent provided translated written materials in the office.

Pediatricians in rural areas or in states with higher proportions of people who are not proficient in English were least likely to use professional translation services, the survey found.

The study was published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Our results show that language services for patients with limited English proficiency are clearly inadequate, especially in smaller rural communities," Kuo said.

Failure to provide appropriate language services can compromise patient safety, decrease patient satisfaction, result in poorer patient health, and increase health care costs, the team said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about patients and interpreters.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, news release, April 2, 2007
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