Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health

, 11:527

Language Barriers among Patients in Boston Emergency Departments: Use of Medical Interpreters After Passage of Interpreter Legislation


  • Adit A. Ginde
    • Department of Emergency MedicineUniversity of Colorado Denver School of Medicine
  • Sunday Clark
    • Division of General Internal MedicineUniversity of Pittsburgh
    • Department of Emergency Medicine, EMNet Coordinating CenterMassachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Brief Communication

DOI: 10.1007/s10903-008-9188-5

Cite this article as:
Ginde, A.A., Clark, S. & Camargo, C.A. J Immigrant Minority Health (2009) 11: 527. doi:10.1007/s10903-008-9188-5


Background Since 2001, Massachusetts state law dictates that emergency department (ED) patients with limited English proficiency have the right to a professional interpreter. Methods one year later, for two 24-h periods, we interviewed adult patients presenting to four Boston EDs. We assessed language barriers and compared this need with the observed use and type of interpreter during the ED visit. Results We interviewed 530 patients (70% of eligible) and estimated that an interpreter was needed for 60 (11%; 95% confidence interval, 7–12%) patients. The primary interpreter for these clinical encounters was a physician (30%), friend or family member age ≥18 years (22%), hospital interpreter services (15%), younger family member (11%), or other hospital staff (17%). Conclusions We found that 11% of ED patients had significant language barriers, but use of professional medical interpreters remained low. One year after passage of legislation mandating access, use of professional medical interpreters remained inadequate.


InterpretersLanguage barriersEmergency departmentImmigrants

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008