Close this search box.

Language Barriers in Healthcare Access

A new report published by The Urban Institute highlights the challenges many Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) face in healthcare access related to Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

The report found that more than half of all AANHPI adults had LEP. And even when medical interpreters are provided, AANHPI individuals speak a variety of different languages, which makes it challenging for healthcare settings to provide translation services to meet this diverse group’s needs.

Keep reading to learn more about this new report and the impact of language barriers on patient safety.

What Are Language Barriers in Healthcare?

Language barriers exist for people who do not speak the community’s dominant language. In the United States, non-English-speaking patients often experience language barriers throughout various stages of the healthcare process. Research shows that language barriers in healthcare can lead to miscommunications and reduced patient safety.

The Urban Institute report also points out that language barriers can make it challenging for many individuals to even register for health insurance since the federal website for the Affordable Care Act Marketplace coverage is only offered in a few select languages.

Many hospitals provide interpreter services, but a 2019 literature review published in the Oman Medical Journal found that even when medical interpreters are provided, these services “contribute indirectly to increased cost and the length of treatment visits.”

If medical interpreters are not available, many patients rely on family members for interpreter services. Unfortunately, this often means that complex medical terms are not relayed accurately and patients are not able always able to understand their options related to serious medical events.

How Can These Language Barriers Be Addressed?

Healthcare professionals can help reduce language barriers by providing interpreter services. As The Urban Institute report states, it is important to offer interpreter services in a variety of diverse languages to meet every patient’s needs.

According to the report, “AANHPI adults have LEP at rates nearly as high as Hispanic adults.” Spanish is frequently offered in healthcare settings in the United States. However, while most Hispanic adults speak Spanish, most AANHPI adults do not speak the same language, which can make it challenging for medical centers to provide the appropriate interpreter services.

In order to address these language barriers in healthcare, The Urban Institute recommends that healthcare providers work with community groups to identify those with “expertise in specific languages common to their local areas” and increase the presence of medical interpreters in healthcare settings.

Additionally, the report suggests increasing the languages that are offered in patient portals, through telemedicine, and in medical call centers.

By utilizing some of these strategies, healthcare providers can help to overcome language barriers and improve patient care for all patients.

ALTA Medical Interpreter Training

ALTA offers an online medical interpreter training course for anyone who wants to help reduce language barriers in healthcare settings.

This 40-hour course covers 42 languages and can be completed on your schedule. It covers everything from essential medical terminology to an overview of the human body, the interpreter code of ethics, and much more.

At the end of the course, you will receive a Certificate of Qualification, which counts as 3 of the requirements to sit for the NBCMI or CCHI exams.

There are many language barriers that exist in health care, which lead to poorer health outcomes and communication barriers. Professional medical interpreters can help reduce these language barriers and the associated health disparities to improve health equity for LEP patients.

Contact us today to learn more about the 40-Hour Medical Interpreter Training or keep reading about the value of interpreter services in health care on the ALTA Beyond Words Blog.

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

Other Resources

The Role of Certified Translators in Medical Document Translation Accuracy

Certified medical translators play a critical role in ensuring accuracy when translating medical documents between languages. Inaccuracies can have serious consequences for patient care and outcomes. Certified translators have extensive medical knowledge and adhere to strict quality standards to produce...

Learn More

The Importance Of Language Testing in Healthcare

Language tests play a vital role in reducing errors in the healthcare setting. When lives are on the line, accurate interpretation and translation are necessary. Language testing ensures that people in these roles have a high understanding of both language...

Learn More

The Benefits of Bilingual Pay Differentials in Healthcare: A Guide for Healthcare Workers

As of 2021, 8% of people in the United States ages five or older are limited English proficient (LEP). Historically, the difficulties that LEP populations experience in communicating with healthcare providers have contributed to disproportionately poor health outcomes. Additionally, because...

Learn More

Contact Us

Get Started Today

Interested in our language services? Complete the form or call us during business hours (9 AM to 6:00 PM ET) at 800.895.8210.

Preparing for your test?

View our test prep materials or FAQ’s for common questions about taking a test.