Language Barriers Present Challenges in Medical Settings:

Diversity within the American population is the leading contributor to language barriers, misunderstandings and poor limited English proficient (LEP) patient care in medical settings. As far back as 1996, the Emory University School of Medicine conducted a report where the objective was to determine how often interpreters were used for Spanish speaking patients, patients’ perceived need for an interpreter, and the impact of interpreter use on patients’ subjective and objective knowledge of their diagnosis and treatment. A total of 467 native Spanish speaking and 63 English speaking Latino patients presented their non urgent medical problems. An interpreter was used for 26% of Spanish speaking patients. For 52%, an interpreter was not used but was not thought to be necessary by the patient. A total of 22% said an interpreter was not used but should have been used. Nurses and physicians interpreted most frequently, 49% of the time, and professional interpreters were used for only 12% of patients,. An astounding 76% of Spanish speaking patients went without an interpreter.


Interpreters are often not used despite a perceived need by patients, and the interpreters who are used usually lack formal training in this skill. Interpreter use greatly affected patients’ perceived understanding of their disease, but a high proportion of patients in all groups had poor knowledge of their diagnosis and recommended treatment. This study, conducted in 1996, was just the tip of the iceberg, imagine the frequency in which LEP patients are provided with substandard care in today’s diverse society due to language barriers. In 2013, 25.1 million people were considered Limited English proficient (LEP). The population is rapidly growing more diverse as people immigrate to the United States; creating solutions and developing strategies to combat language barriers has become a priority for the healthcare industry. Erika Williams, a medical student at Harvard Medical School, conducted research to conclude, “Language barriers can significantly affect care. Studies indicate that patients with limited English proficiency receive less preventive care, are less likely to adhere to medication regimens, and are more likely to leave the hospital against medical advice.”

Interpretation Services Reduce Substandard Healthcare for LEP Patients:

Doctors and healthcare workers work at a rapid pace, so accessing an interpreter is oftentimes not a priority when a person’s life is on the line. The limited time factor is understandable, however in hospitals there’re many protocols in which are required to be followed, accessing interpretation services should be one of them. A lack in education and proper training on how to quickly and efficiently connect with an interpreter is the main reason language services are severely underutilized. All hospitals should acquire a partnership with a reputable language service company in order to gain access to experienced and qualified interpreters. Language services such as on-site interpretation, telephone interpretation as well as video remote interpreting (VRI) are all language service options in which can be used to facilitate communication. Wait time isn’t a factor when using telephone interpretation or VRI, on-demand features allow you to connect to an interpreter, perfectly fitted for your language needs, in minutes or less. Aiming to provide strong language access training to healthcare workers and educating them on the importance of providing interpretation services to LEP patients can help in the reduction of substandard care.  

Not Providing Interpretation Services Can Have Fatal Consequences:

A single misunderstood word can have major consequences, every interaction must be completely precise and accurate. Poor interpretation in medical settings can lead to patient harm and even fatal consequences. Gricelda Zamora a thirteen year old girl was taken to the hospital because she was complaining of severe abdominal pain. She normally filled the role of interpreter for her Spanish speaking parents, but was too ill this time. After a night in the hospital of observation, her parents were told, without the aid of an interpreter, to bring her back immediately if her symptoms worsened, otherwise follow up with a doctor in three days. Her parents didn’t understand the instructions and thought they were just supposed to bring their daughter back in three days. After two days, Gricelda became so weakened and ill, her parents brought her back to the hospital, where she died of a ruptured appendix within a few hours. Providing interpretation services to LEP patients is the only way to ensure they fully understand doctors’ instructions and receive quality healthcare. Risking a person’s life due to a misunderstanding, when there are interpretation services available to bridge language gaps is neglectful and irresponsible. Hire a language service company so all your patients are taken care of despite the language they speak.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women Business Enterprise with 20 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled interpreters and translators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes certified interpreters and translators. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at

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