Competent Healthcare Should Mean the Same Thing in Any Language

May 29, 2018 | Strategic Insights for Ambulatory Care


​More than 60 million people in the United States speak a language other than English at home, and healthcare providers are not prepared to serve patients with limited English proficiency, according to a viewpoint in the May 2018 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. In places like Los Angeles, the author says, encountering patients with limited English proficiency is "the norm, not the exception." Patients with limited English proficiency have less symptom control than those who are proficient in English, are subject to more liberal use of testing, and have higher rates of unplanned revisits to the emergency department (ED), the author said. The author provided the example of a doctor who conducts a brief interview in Spanish with a patient and leaves satisfied that he has discovered that the patient has injured her ankle, knee, and elbow. However, because the interview was conducted by someone who only uses, in the author's words, "their 20-word Spanish vocabulary," it is not discovered that the patient's injuries are the result of domestic violence. Providing patients with limited English proficiency with adequate care is also the law.

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