Kaiser Health News/Washington Post Examines How Language Barriers Affect Quality of Care for ImmigrantsKaiser Health News/Washington Post on Tuesday examined how language and cultural barriers can discourage immigrants from seeking care and might lead to "calamitous errors" in diagnoses and treatments. Some hospitals have adapted to communication challenges by installing phones to connect patients and staff to interpreters, hiring interpreters or training employees to learn languages, and recruiting bilingual staff.
However, some hospitals and physicians "are wary of the cost of interpretation services," which can be as much as $190 per hour, and say the government should provide funding for interpreters. A 45-year-old federal civil rights law requires hospitals and physicians who accept federal funds to provide language services. The federal government provides some interpreter funding to states through Medicaid and CHIP, but states must use their own funds to draw down federal matching funds for the programs. George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates CEO Stephen Badger said his organization has no full-time staff interpreters. He said, "The cost of interpreters is expensive and usually is greater than the payment we receive (from Medicaid) for the health care actually provided."
Sonia Mora, manager of the Latino Health Initiative at the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Health and Human Services, said that she has seen language services improve over the last five years. Mora said, "Now we're starting to see that it's going to save us money, because people are going to be healthier." However, she said that the need for translation services remains and that providers who have the ability to offer such services carry a large burden (Barclay, Kaiser Health News/Washington Post, 4/21).
This story was produced through a collaboration between the Washington Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN is an editorially independent news service that provides coverage of the policy and politics of health care. KHN is a service of the Kaiser Family Foundation. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.