Language Barriers Keep Millions From Good Health Care

By Robert Preidt
Health Day reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 7, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Due to language barriers, 25 million Spanish speakers receive about a third less health care than other Americans, according to a large study of American adults.

Analysis of federal survey data of more than 120,000 adults found that total health care use (measured by spending) was 35% to 42% lower among those whose primary language is English. Spanish versus English speakers.

“Too few doctors or nurses speak Spanish, and many hospitals and clinics have grossly inadequate interpretation and translation services, despite federal mandates that require them,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Danny McCormick, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Primary Care Physician at Cambridge Health Alliance. “But most insurers will not cover the costs of interpreters, and the federal application of language mandates has been lax.”

The study found that Spanish speakers had 36% fewer outpatient visits; 48% less prescription drugs; and 35% fewer outpatient visits. Compared to Hispanic adults who were fluent in English, Hispanics also had 37% less prescription drugs.

Spanish speakers also had slightly fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations, according to results published in the July issue of the journal. Health affairs.

Even when it comes to life-saving services like colon cancer screening, Spanish speakers are less likely to receive them, the researchers reported.

Despite federal laws that require interpreter services for hospitals and other agencies receiving federal funding and prohibit discrimination based on national origin, language gaps in health care have not narrowed over the past 20 years. years.

For example, the difference in health spending between Hispanics and non-Hispanic adults fell from $ 2,156 in 1999 to $ 3,608 in 2018, even after controlling for inflation.

Lead author Dr Jessica Himmelstein said the pandemic had amplified the problems.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the Hispanic community, especially those with limited English proficiency,” said Himmelstein, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and a physician at the Cambridge Health Alliance. “The pandemic has exacerbated the failure of our healthcare system to meet the needs of patients facing language barriers.”

More information

The US National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities offers health information in several languages.

SOURCE: Harvard Medical School / Cambridge Health Alliance, press release, July 6, 2021

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