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Impact of language barriers on patient satisfaction in an emergency department



To examine patient satisfaction and willingness to return to an emergency department (ED) among non-English speakers.


Cross-sectional survey and follow-up interviews 10 days after ED visit.


Five urban teaching hospital EDs in the Northeastern United States.


We surveyed 2,333 patients who presented to the ED with one of six chief complaints.

Measurements and main results

Patient satisfaction, willingness to return to the same ED if emergency care was needed, and patient-reported problems with care were measured. Three hundred fifty-four (15%) of the patients reported English was not their primary language. Using an overall measure of patient satisfaction, only 52% of non-English-speaking patients were satisfied as compared with 71% of English speakers (p<.01). Among non-English speakers, 14% said they would not return to the same ED if they had another problem requiring emergency care as compared with 9.5% of English speakers (p<.05). In multivariate analysis adjusting for hospital site, age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, income, chief complaint, urgency, insurance status. Medicaid status, ED as the patient’s principal source of care, and presence of a regular provider of care, non-English speakers were significantly less likely to be satisfied (odds ratio [OR] 0.59; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.39, 0.90) and significantly less willing to return to the same ED (OR 0.57; 95% CI 0.34, 0.95). Non-English speakers also were significantly more likely to report overall problems with care (OR 1.70; 95% CI 1.05, 2.74), communication (OR 1.71; 95% CI 1.18, 2.47), and testing (OR 1.77; 95% CI 1.19, 2.64).


Non-English speakers were less satisfied with their care in the ED, less willing to return to the same ED if they had a problem they felt required emergency care, and reported more problems with emergency care. Strategies to improve satisfaction among this group of patients may include appropriate use of professional interpreters and increasing the language concordance between patients and providers.

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Carrasquillo, O., Orav, E.J., Brennan, T.A. et al. Impact of language barriers on patient satisfaction in an emergency department. J Gen Intern Med 14, 82–87 (1999).

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Key words

  • patient satisfaction
  • communication barriers
  • language
  • Hispanic Americans