Pediatricians rarely provide translation services for patients with little English proficiency

Most pediatricians use untrained interpreters to communicate with families who are not proficient in English, according to the results of a nationwide survey of doctors led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Nearly two-thirds of the pediatricians surveyed said they relied on the patients bilingual family member to relay health information. Pediatricians in rural areas or in states with higher proportions of non-English proficient populations were the least likely to use professional translation services. The study is published in the April 2007 issue of Pediatrics.

Our results show that language services for patients with limited English proficiency are clearly inadequate, especially in smaller rural communities, said lead author Dennis Z. Kuo, MD, MHS, a general pediatrics fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and graduate of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 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.

The study was based on the results of a survey of 1,829 physicians from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of the physicians surveyed, 70 percent reported using the patients bilingual family member to relay health information, 58 percent reported using bilingual staff for assistance. Only 40 percent reported using professional interpreters, and 35 percent offered translated written materials in the office. In this study, limited English proficiency were defined as those for whom English was not the primary language and who spoke English less than very well.

Pediatricians in states with large numbers of Spanish-speaking patients were less likely to use professional interpreters. Instead, they reported greater reliance on bilingual staff members to relay information. In addition, doctors in states where translation services were covered by public health insurance were more l

Contact: Tim Parsons
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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