Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Better outcomes recorded when patients and physicians speak the same language

“The more than doubling in odds of serious harms, including death, for patients receiving care in a different language is eye-opening."
Hospital room
The Associated Press/ Seth Wenig

Story at a glance

  •  Being admitted to a hospital can be a stressful event.

  • But when physicians don’t speak the same language as their patients, communication challenges can worsen the situation. 

  • Findings of a new study highlight the importance of language-concordant care in hospital settings.

Amid a growing physician shortage, new research underscores the importance of creating a diverse provider workforce, as patients who speak the same language as their physicians reported better outcomes during hospital stays.

The study, which followed 189,690 home care patients admitted to an Ontario, Canada, hospital between 2010 and 2018, was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Patients whose primary language was something other than English or French and who received language concordant care had a 54 percent lower odds of death. They also had lower risks of adverse events like falls and infections and had shorter stays within the hospital compared with those patients who received language discordant care. 

Similar results were recorded among French-speaking patients. Those treated by a French-speaking physician had a 24 percent lower odds of death. 

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Language concordant care was defined as patients receiving more than 50 percent of care from physicians who spoke their native language.

The majority of patients in the study spoke English, while 2.7 percent spoke French and 13.2 percent spoke a different primary language. In the latter cohort, Italian, Mandarin, Ibero-Romance and Indo-Aryan languages were spoken. However, only 44.4 percent of French-speaking patients received care in their language and only 1.6 percent of non-French- or English-speaking patients received language concordant care. 

“These are staggering findings that make a strong case for providing care in the same language for linguistic minorities in hospitals,” said study co-author Peter Tanuseputro of the Ottawa Hospital in a statement

“It’s clearly easier to convey important information about your health in your primary language. Regardless, the more than doubling in odds of serious harms, including death, for patients receiving care in a different language is eye-opening.”

Forty-two percent of physicians in the study were multi-lingual and 58 percent spoke only English. 

In addition to recruiting multilingual physicians, interpreter services could be employed to reduce poor health outcomes in these patients. 

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