Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 8, pp 1434–1440 | Cite as

Patient-Provider Communication Disparities by Limited English Proficiency (LEP): Trends from the US Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2006–2015

  • Terceira A. BerdahlEmail author
  • James B. Kirby
Original Research



Individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) have worse healthcare access and report lower quality of care compared to individuals who are proficient in English. Policy efforts to improve patient-provider communication for LEP individuals have been going on for decades but linguistic disparities persist.


To describe trends in patient-provider communication by limited English proficiency (LEP) from 2006 to 2015.


We estimated interrupted time series models for three measures of patient-provider communication, testing for differences in both means (intercepts) and trends (slopes) before and after 2010 and differences in differences by English proficiency.


A nationally representative sample of the US non-institutionalized population with at least one office-based medical visit from the 2006–2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (N = 27,001).

Main Measures

Patient-provider communication is measured with three variables indicating whether individuals reported that their providers always explained things in a way that was easy to understand, showed respect for what they had to say, and listened carefully.

Key Results

Although patient-provider communication improved for all groups over the study period, before 2010, it was getting worse among LEP individuals and disparities in patient-provider communication were widening. After 2010, patient-provider communication improved for LEP individuals and language disparities by English proficiency either narrowed or remained the same. For example, between 2006 and 2010, the percent of LEP individuals reporting that their provider explained things clearly declined by, on average, 1.4 percentage points per year (p value = 0.102); after 2010, it increased by 3.0 percentage points per year (p value = 0.003).


Our study sheds light on trends in patient-provider communication before and after 2010, a year that marked substantial efforts to reform the US healthcare system. Though patient-provider communication among LEP individuals has improved since 2010, linguistic disparities persist and constitute a formidable challenge to achieving healthcare equity, a long-standing US policy goal.


limited English proficiency disparities healthcare policy patient-provider communication 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


The findings and conclusions in this paper are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Health and Human Services or the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Supplementary material

11606_2018_4757_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine (This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Financing, Access and Cost TrendsAgency for Healthcare Research and QualityRockvilleUSA

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