Addressing Language Barriers In Health Care

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The Tennessean on Friday published an editorial and an opinion piece that addressed issues related to language barriers in health care. Summaries appear below.

* Tennessean: Language barriers can complicate the relationship between physicians and patients, but "most medical providers, especially those who serve large numbers of immigrants, understand the importance of finding interpreters to help solve this problem," a Tennessean editorial states. In health care, "no one should want situations where providers say the patient must be fluent in English if the patient expects care," the editorial states, adding, "Everyone should agree that that's not an ideal approach to medicine."

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According to the editorial, health clinics should "spread the word that interpreters are needed," as volunteers who "can interpret can be priceless to many of those who give care." The editorial states that, "as diversity in any community grows, languages and customs bring challenges that can complicate matters," adding that the "answer is to find ways to bridge those lines of communication" (Tennessean, 1/2).

* Mary Bufwack, Tennessean: "Language barriers have resulted in the wrong diagnosis, the wrong medications, unnecessary hospitalizations and in one emergency case, permanent disability," Bufwack, CEO of the United Neighborhood Health Services in Nashville, Tenn., writes in a Tennessean opinion piece. However, the "danger of a lack of language services does not only result in poor health care and harm to the individual unable to speak English," she writes, adding, "Entire communities can be put at risk."

Bufwack writes, "The need for interpreters will continue to grow" adding, "Rather than waiting for each practice and organization to solve the problem, we should be designing and implementing effective systems that can be available to all health care providers at reasonable costs" because current "models are partial, expensive and inefficient." According to Bufwack, by "purchasing language services in bulk, all providers, no matter how large or small the volume, have access to high quality services at affordable rates." She concludes, "Language services are essential for an effective and high quality public health and health-care delivery system" (Bufwack, Tennessean, 1/2).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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