Cultural concierges help smooth language barriers

A staggering 90 percent of clinicians say language barriers have compromised care in patients with limited English proficiency, and 86 percent said cultural barriers compromised care, according to a QuantiaMD report released yesterday.

QuantiaMD found that physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants encounter at least 25 percent of their patients who either have limited English skills or cultural considerations that influence their care.

One respondent said when word spread that this internal medicine physician spoke Spanish, many patients switched physicians, who otherwise did not discuss their medical issues with other providers because of language barriers.

Fluency in other languages alone, however, won't address the needs of ethnic populations, according to Victor Bonilla, a cardiologist at University of California, Davis.

"The ability to communicate with a patient in their native tongue is a huge asset, but it only addresses part of the issue," he said in the press QuantiaMD press release. "It is just as important for physicians to understand the effects of different cultural beliefs and behaviors and how these may influence expectations of healthcare, understanding of a disease state or adherence to treatment."

To address the needs of ethnic populations, some hospitals are experimenting with cultural concierges. For example, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., last month implemented a four-person cultural concierge program for its Korean, Polish, Russian, and Hispanic patients, according to a Chicago Tribune article yesterday. Unlike standard hospital translators, the cultural concierges address patients' specific cultural concerns. For instance, Korean women after childbirth traditionally eat a special soup, an option now offered on the hospital's menu.

"If patient safety and quality improvement initiatives have taught us anything, it's that the root causes of adverse events and sub-optimal outcomes are almost always system failures," said QuantiaMD Editor-in-Chief Michael Paskavitz in a press release. "And this study has clearly identified a major failure in the system that supports physicians and patients, which is access to resources that address the cultural diversity of today's patients."

To learn more:
- read the full QuantiaMD report (.pdf)
- read the QuantiaMD press release
- check out the Tribune article

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