Friday, August 10, 2012

Medical interpreters key to quality care

SPEAKING OUT: From left, Betancourt, Lindholm and Hargraves

“Admission and discharge are two really important times for any patient,” began Lee Hargraves, PhD, research associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “When there is a language barrier and there is no professional interpreter present, it can result in undesirable outcomes.”

Hargraves and his colleague, Mary Lindholm, MD, spoke at an Aug. 7 meeting in the Sweet Conference Room as part of the MGH Disparities Solutions Center’s (DSC) seminar series, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Keeping Current.”

Lindholm explained that a recent study found the length of a stay in the hospital for limited-English-proficiency patients is one-and-a-half days longer when professional interpreters are not used at admission and discharge. “We also saw that this population was roughly 10 percent more likely to be readmitted.”

Possible reasons for these statistics, they both noted, are that medical staff may have trouble accurately diagnosing a patient if there is a language barrier during the admission process, and if there is no professional interpreter during discharge there could be confusion regarding a patient’s care plan or medication.

“The study and this discussion are important because we are now seeing clear evidence that language barriers affect quality, safety and cost,” said Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, director of the DSC. “These issues are taking on greater importance as we enter a new era of health care system change and accountability. We all need to do a better job of providing interpreter services to those who need them.”

The DSC seminar series aims to disseminate the latest information about practices, research findings and health policy updates related to efforts to reduce disparities. The forums feature presentations from experts in the field as well as context, perspectives and opinions from key health care stakeholders. For more information about the DSC, visit

Read more articles from the 8/10/12 Hotline issue.


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