Language Barriers Impact a Patient’s Health Outcomes

Enstriksyon espesyal: The Importance of Effective Communication

Author(s): Lenda Jean-Baptiste, MPA
Program Coordinator, Social Impact, Health Beyond the Hospital

DeAnna L. Minus-Vincent, MPA
Senior Vice President, Chief Social Integration & Health Equity Strategist

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This is what Erzula Mingo[1] sees when she tries to read the instructions given to her after a visit to an urgent care facility. Even though the doctor provided the Post-Visit Summary in her preferred language, Haitian Creole, much of it appears to be written in a different language. A Haitian immigrant who struggles with reading and writing, especially when it comes to health and medical terms, Erzula is not unlike 27 million people throughout the United States who has limited English proficiency (LEP), which increases the rate at which individuals struggle with health literacy.

From the time they were little, Mrs. Mingo’s daughter’s always accompanied her doctor’s appointments. They helped her fill out the documents provided to her by the doctor’s office; and even when the subject was uncomfortable, discussed her concerns with the doctor. They served as her interpreter and translator; her voice and her advocate. The day she went to the urgent care, Mrs. Mingo just could not wait until one of her daughters could go with her. Her head was constantly aching, she felt worried and unsettled; and was just so tired all the time – she knew something was wrong. She had no time to wonder, “Will they understand what I need? Will they be able to help? Will they try?”

Many patients face language barriers and are forced to navigate the complex healthcare system. When patients with limited English proficiency and providers struggle to communicate effectively, it results in reduced rates of adherence to discharge instructions and medication, increased rates of hospital readmission, emergency department readmissions, and hospital stays; and higher healthcare utilization and costs.

With New Jersey being one of the most diverse states in the nation and in accordance with the language access and interpreter requirements of the Joint Commission, RWJBarnabas Health commits to offering every patient the ability to communicate effectively with their healthcare provider. To find out more or request an interpreter, please visit our Language Assistance Services.

[1] Based on factual events, but name altered to protect the privacy of the individual.