LOS ANGELES - Foreign-born Latino patients had a more positive perception of health care quality when clinical service providers spoke to them in the same language, according to a recent study by William A. Vega, the executive director of the Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging at the USC School of Social Work, and other researchers.
The study, published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, also found that these higher ratings for health care quality could not be explained by socioeconomic factors. When patient and provider spoke a concordant language, foreign-born Latinos reported less confusion and frustration with the information received from clinicians and better overall ratings of health care quality.
“This [study] makes a strong point that when patient and clinicians do not speak the same language, there are negative consequences for the patient,” Vega said.
One in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home, and some speak little or no English at all. Latinos are the largest and fastest growing ethnic/racial group in the United States, and the U.S. Census projects that about one third of the U.S. population will be Latino by the year 2050.
New health care reforms that will be implemented will need to adequately address language barriers that can lead to discrimination in quality of care received for this growing population, Vega said.
“In the context of health care reform implementation, the research clearly supports taking the necessary steps to ensure that after nearly 50 years since Title VI, tangible steps can be taken to fulfill its mandate in America,” Vega said.
One of goals of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which was enacted over 40 years ago, was to prevent discrimination from being funded by federal dollars. Because almost all health care organizations receive some form of federal funding, they must ensure that language barriers do not impact the quality of care provided to patients.
“Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act offered a specific assurance that patients who speak a primary language other than English should receive services in a language they could fully understand,” Vega said.
Vega is one the nation’s leading experts on health disparities that affect aging ethnic minority populations. The USC Roybal Institute is dedicated to translational research, policy advocacy and training that improves the health, mental health and care of older persons, particularly those from multiethnic backgrounds.