Hospital study says interpreters can improve care

Some health care organizations are trying to reach patients of different cultures and health literacy levels.

By Damon Adams — Posted Sept. 18, 2006

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Providing language-assistance services and improving staff communication skills are ways that hospitals can reduce language and cultural barriers and better communicate with patients, a new report said.

The Commonwealth Fund report, released in August, studied eight hospitals across the country that are committed to fostering patient-centered communication with diverse patient populations.

Researchers discovered that the hospitals have strong community ties, relationships that help keep hospitals informed of changing patient populations and communication needs. They hire staff who reflect and understand ethnic and other diverse aspects of the patient population, the report said.

Also, the hospitals found that using interpreters provided better quality care and led to fewer unnecessary tests. The report said cross-cultural communication is more effective when hospitals recognize the importance of culture, create a welcoming environment and use interpreters' strengths.

Researchers visited the facilities and compiled "promising practices" from the hospitals' efforts to cut language barriers and ensure effective interactions. Among the promising practices:

  • Providing language-assistance services.
  • Addressing low health literacy.
  • Developing a diverse and skilled work force.
  • Collecting information on patient needs.

"Engaging your patients in whatever you're going to do to improve communication is going to be worthwhile," said report co-author Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, director of the Institute for Ethics at the American Medical Association and executive director of the Ethical Force Program, a collaborative effort to develop systemwide performance measures for ethics.

The eight hospitals included San Francisco General Hospital; Iowa Health System in Des Moines, Iowa; Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill.; and Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Mass.

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External links

"Promising Practices for Patient-Centered Communication with Vulnerable Populations: Examples from Eight Hospitals," Commonwealth Fund report, August (link)

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