Literature on Language

Language Barriers Impact Medical Care

A growing body of literature has documented the impact of language barriers on access to quality healthcare (Journal of General Internal Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, Ambulatory Pediatrics Journal, Pediatrics Journal, Medical Care Journal).

To quote a May 2006 study, “Language as a Barrier to Health care for New York City Children in Immigrant Families,” published by the New York Academy of Medicine:

“Limited English proficiency and language discordance are associated with under-use of primary and preventive services, limited comprehension of medical and insurance-related information, nonadherence to medical recommendations, and less cost-effective use of medical services, including a greater need for laboratory tests and longer medical visits.”

Medical Interpreter Can Make a Difference

Regarding the need for trained interpreters, the NYC study comments:

“Although preferable to no translation and translation by a child, research has shown that ad hoc translators who lack specific training as medical interpreters are likely to make numerous errors, including errors with potential clinical consequences. Errors may be due to language deficiencies on the part of the translator in either the patient’s or the provider’s language (particularly the specialized medical terminology), as well as lapses in memory of exactly what was said and errors in judgment regarding what information needs to be communicated.”