Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Proper Medical Care May Be Hampered by Lack of Qualified Interpreters

WebMD Health News

Language Barrier Affecting Health Care

July 19, 2006 -- Identifying autismautism in a very young child is difficult under the best of circumstances, but Nelsinia Ramos faced a special challenge seven years ago when she sought a diagnosis to explain her young daughter Jennifer's developmental delays.

Ramos spoke little English, but she was determined to find out what was wrong with her daughter, who was not yet 2.

"The language barrier added to the frustration because I couldn't really explain what was going on with her, even though I tried my best," says Ramos, who now speaks fluent English.

Some 50 million people living in the U.S. speak languages other than English in their homes, and 22 million speak only limited English.

For many, access to health care is limited by their inability to communicate their medical needs, in large part because of a lack of qualified interpreters in the nation's hospitals, says Glenn Flores, MD, who has long studied the problem.

"We are not providing the best care to patients when language barriers aren't being addressed," he tells WebMD. "This is a quality of care issue, and it makes both ethical and economic sense to address it."

13 States Require Reimbursement

In an editorial appearing in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, Flores called on federal and state officials to enforce a federal mandate requiring language assistance for patients with limited English proficiency.

Thirteen states currently require third-party reimbursement for hospital-based interpreters, but they are not the states that need such laws most, Flores says.

"The states with the largest non-English-speaking populations don't have these requirements," he says.

A survey of hospitals in New Jersey, where a quarter of the population speaks a language other than English in their homes, revealed that only 3% provided full-time interpreters. That translates to one interpreter for every 235,260 people, Flores says.

When interpreters aren't available, health care providers tend to rely on bilingual family members, friends, or even hospital staffers who aren't trained medical interpreters. A study of interpreter-caused medical errors, conducted by Flores and colleagues, found that more than three-quarters, or 77%, involved nonprofessional interpreters.

The school-aged children of immigrants often serve as interpreters for their parents because they tend to be more fluent in English. This practice presents special problems in the health care setting, Flores adds.

Latest Health Reform News

Loading …
URAC: Accredited Health Web Site TRUSTe online privacy certification HONcode Seal AdChoices