Failure to Communicate

Monday, 9 November 2015

Kelly S. Johnson, DNP, RN
Holly Carter, MSN, RN, FNP-BC
School of Nursing, Troy University, Troy, AL, USA

The use of interpreters in health care is a growing concern among providers and organizations with the increase of non-English speaking populations.  A 2005-2009 American Community Survey reported that 20% of the population does not speak English as their primary language (Grover, Deakyne, Bajaj, & Roosevelt, 2012).  Twelve percent of those surveyed are Spanish speaking (Grover, et al., 2012).  Language barriers in health care can prevent patients from receiving care, obtaining  proper follow up, and making informed decisions about their care (Grover, et al., 2012).   Health care organizations have identified interpreters in health care as professionals at a facility who are fluent in another language, family members, friends, other patients, and nonprofessional staff at the facility (Schenker, Perez-Stable, Nickleach, & Karliner, 2011).

            In several studies, the use of interpreters have improved patient outcomes and even decreased hospitalizations and emergency room visits (Hacker et al., 2012; Grover et al., 2011).  Non-English speaking patients have a higher rate of 30-day readmissions when compared to English speaking patients (Lindholm, Hargraves, Ferguson, & Reed, 2012).  In one study the time from seeing a physician to disposition was increased with use of a telephone interpreter compared to in-person interpreter usage (Grover et al., 2012). 

            Health care facilities have identified the cost of a full-time professional in-person interpreter as a barrier to providing interpretation to non-English speaking patients.  Many facilities may even use part-time interpreters who can be called in when needed.  Inconsistency among part-time interpreters can lead to errors in communication.  They may omit issues pertinent to non-English speaking cultures.  Likewise patients may not disclose all health care concerns needed to provide appropriate care (Lindholm et al., 2012).

            With over 300 different languages spoken in the United States and over 24 million who speak little English, health care providers are faced with providing competent care to patients that includes understanding of their treatments, diagnosis, and preventive services (Lindholm et al., 2012).  The patient has a right to information and it is the responsibility of health care providers to ensure every patient receives the best quality care.