, Volume 22, Issue 2 Supplement, pp 324-330,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 24 Oct 2007

Providing High-Quality Care for Limited English Proficient Patients: The Importance of Language Concordance and Interpreter Use

Abstract

Background

Provider–patient language discordance is related to worse quality care for limited English proficient (LEP) patients who speak Spanish. However, little is known about language barriers among LEP Asian-American patients.

Objective

We examined the effects of language discordance on the degree of health education and the quality of interpersonal care that patients received, and examined its effect on patient satisfaction. We also evaluated how the presence/absence of a clinic interpreter affected these outcomes.

Design

Cross-sectional survey, response rate 74%.

Participants

A total of 2,746 Chinese and Vietnamese patients receiving care at 11 health centers in 8 cities.

Measurements

Provider–patient language concordance, health education received, quality of interpersonal care, patient ratings of providers, and the presence/absence of a clinic interpreter. Regression analyses were used to adjust for potential confounding.

Results

Patients with language-discordant providers reported receiving less health education (β = 0.17, p < 0.05) compared to those with language-concordant providers. This effect was mitigated with the use of a clinic interpreter. Patients with language-discordant providers also reported worse interpersonal care (β = 0.28, p < 0.05), and were more likely to give low ratings to their providers (odds ratio [OR] = 1.61; CI = 0.97–2.67). Using a clinic interpreter did not mitigate these effects and in fact exacerbated disparities in patients’ perceptions of their providers.

Conclusion

Language barriers are associated with less health education, worse interpersonal care, and lower patient satisfaction. Having access to a clinic interpreter can facilitate the transmission of health education. However, in terms of patients’ ratings of their providers and the quality of interpersonal care, having an interpreter present does not serve as a substitute for language concordance between patient and provider.