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Diverse Language Needs Challenge U.S. Hospitals

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 29 Aug 2016
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A new study reveals that more than a third of the hospitals in the United States do not offer patients language assistance, and in areas with the greatest need, about 25% of facilities fail to provide such services.

Researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU; CA, USA) and the University of Florida (Gainesville, USA) examined survey data collected from 4,514 hospitals nationwide by the American Hospital Association (AHA, Washington, DC, USA), categorizing the hospitals as to whether they offered language services, and by their ownership status (private not-for-profit, private for-profit, or government-owned). The researchers also calculated the number of residents with low English proficiency in the facilities’ service areas, using census data collected from 2009 to 2013.

The researchers found that 69% of hospitals offered language services and that hospitals serving areas with moderate needs provided proportionately more assistance than facilities located in both low- and high-need areas. Private not-for-profit hospitals were the facilities most likely to offer language services, but in areas with the greatest need about 36% did not have systems in place. And less than 20% of government-owned and private for-profit hospitals o offered language aid. The researchers found no pattern to explain which facilities provided language assistance. The study was published in the August 2016 issue of Health Affairs.

“Based on civil rights law, any hospital receiving federal funds must have language services available for its patients. However, many patients do not know their right to access language services, which could become more challenging as private for-profit hospitals continue to grow in market share,” concluded lead author associate professor Melody Schiaffino, MPH, PhD, of SDSU, and colleagues. “A lot of hospitals probably are not aware of the change in diversity and the scale of diversity in their community as they think. To receive a diagnosis in the language that you prefer is not an unreasonable request.”

According to the study, 60 million people in the United States claim a primary language other than English, and 24 million of them have limited English proficiency, experiencing barriers to health care because of their inability to communicate effectively with providers. Hospitals are required to provide language services that reflect the needs of people in their communities, but these services are not available systematically.

Related Links:
San Diego State University
University of Florida
American Hospital Association

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