Communication between doctors and patients can suffer for a host of reasons. However, when a patient has limited English proficiency (LEP), the care they receive can be seriously – and dangerously – impacted.
This year, JAMA Pediatrics published a study that backed that up. Researchers looked at pediatric patients whose primary languages were Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and English. They and their families were asked to rate their own level of English proficiency as well as their health literacy and education level. They were also asked things like whether they asked questions or challenged the medical providers they saw.
While just over 14% acknowledged that they had LEP, those who did were less likely to speak up with questions and concerns about what they were being told or their own condition than those who identified as proficient in English. It should be noted that education and health literacy levels played a role as well. Researchers determined from the study that those with LEP fare worse in hospitals than those who speak and understand English well.
What the medical profession can do to change this
That sadly should come as no surprise. However, hospitals can take steps to help patients who speak and understand limited English. For example, they can have professional medical interpreters available to call on when needed. Others have recommended that medical Spanish be taught in medical schools as well as to practicing physicians to help them better care for the country’s growing Spanish-speaking population.
The authors of the JAMA Pediatrics study recommended that the medical field moves from viewing language differences as a barrier to viewing them as part of our country’s unique diversity. They wrote, “There will be prejudices and assumptions to overcome and financial and logistical barriers to cross. However, in this globally connected world, there is no place for linguistic isolationism.”
If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a failure of medical professionals to understand and communicate, it’s wise to find out your options. Having legal guidance can help you seek the justice and compensation you may be due.