Language Barrier Delais Health Care For Children

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Even when a lack of health insurance is not an issue, many Chinese immigrant parents still face others barriers in getting necessary health care for their sick children, finds a new small study conducted in metropolitan Washington, D.C., where 42 percent of the area’s immigrant families are from Asia.

Language and transportation problems can discourage these parents from seeking care, found researchers led by Z. Jennifer Huang at the Department of International Health at Georgetown University.

The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

The researchers interviewed 76 families from three different socioeconomic groups, in which both parents were born in China, and spoke Mandarin as their primary language. Twenty families were lower-income from the Washington, D.C., suburbs; 45 were middle-high income from the suburbs; and 11 were lower-income from the District’s Chinatown.

Researchers asked parents were asked whether in the past 12 months there was a time when their child was sick and they did not see a health professional. If they said yes, researchers inquired about the possible reasons, such as lack of insurance, transportation problems or language problems.


Most families had access to either private or public health insurance coverage.

“I was surprised to find out the delayed care is more common in this population, especially the middle-income group,” Huang said. “This prompted us to think of issues beyond the medical insurance when examining the health care access and utilization for recent immigrant families.”

Huang and her colleagues found that most of the parents avoided seeking care because they cannot find a doctor who speaks Chinese or cannot find an interpreter.

“Not many recent immigrant families know they can request translation service at clinics with federal funding,” Huang said.

Allen Fremont, M.D., a natural scientist and sociologist at RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., said that basic translation services are not always enough.

“In addition to [health plans] knowing that there are a significant number of Chinese immigrants living in a given service area, it is also important that they routinely use readily available data, such as GIS mapping tools and Census data, to determine how immigrant members are distributed between different communities within the market the plans serve,” Fremont said.

He added that plans could then ensure they have enough bilingual Chinese-speaking physicians or sufficient translation services easily accessible where needed.