Purpose: To evaluate and improve the provision of language services at an academic medicine center caring for a diverse population including many limited-English-proficient (LEP) patients.
Method: The authors performed a prospective observational study between November 2006 and December 2008 evaluating the provision of language services at the University of Michigan Health System. The primary performance measures were (1) screening patients for their preferred language for health care, (2) assessing the proportion of LEP patients receiving language services from a qualified language services provider, and (3) assessing whether there were any disparities in diabetes care for LEP patients compared with English-speaking patients.
Results: The proportion of patients screened for preferred language increased from 59% to 96% with targeted inventions, such as training staff to capture preferred language for health care and correcting prior inaccurate primary language data entry. The proportion of LEP outpatients with a qualified language services provider increased from 19% to 83% through the use of staff and contract interpreters, over-the-phone interpreting and bilingual providers. There were no systematic differences in diabetes quality performance measures between LEP and English-proficient patients.
Conclusions: Academic medical centers should measure their provision of language services and compare quality and safety data (e.g., performance measures and adverse events) between LEP and English-speaking patients to identify disparities in care. Leadership support and ongoing training are needed to ensure language-specific services are embedded into clinical care to meet the needs of our diverse patient populations.