, Volume 26, Issue 7, pp 712-717
Date: 19 Feb 2011

Patterns of Interpreter Use for Hospitalized Patients with Limited English Proficiency

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ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND

Professional interpreter use improves the quality of care for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), but little is known about interpreter use in the hospital.

OBJECTIVE

Evaluate interpreter use for clinical encounters in the hospital.

DESIGN

Cross-sectional.

PARTICIPANTS

Hospitalized Spanish and Chinese-speaking LEP patients.

MAIN MEASURES

Patient reported use of interpreters during hospitalization.

KEY RESULTS

Among 234 patients, 57% reported that any kind of interpreter was present with the physician at admission, 60% with physicians during hospitalization, and 37% with nurses since admission. The use of professional interpreters with physicians was infrequent overall (17% at admission and 14% since admission), but even less common for encounters with nurses (4%, p < 0.0001). Use of a family member, friend or other patient as interpreter was more common with physicians (28% at admission, 23% since admission) than with nurses (18%, p = 0.008). Few patients reported that physicians spoke their language well (19% at admission, 12% since admission) and even fewer reported that nurses spoke their language well (6%, p = 0.0001). Patients were more likely to report that they either “got by” without an interpreter or were barely spoken to at all with nurses (38%) than with physicians at admission (14%) or since admission (15%, p < 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS

Interpreter use varied by type of clinical contact, but was overall more common with physicians than with nurses. Professional interpreters were rarely used. With physicians, use of ad hoc interpreters such as family or friends was most common; with nurses, patients often reported, “getting by” without an interpreter or barely speaking at all.