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Convenient Access to Professional Interpreters in the Hospital Decreases Readmission Rates and Estimated Hospital Expenditures for Patients With Limited English Proficiency

Karliner, Leah S. MD, MAS; Pérez-Stable, Eliseo J. MD; Gregorich, Steven E. PhD

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000643
Patient Centered Care
Blog 2017
Blog 2017
Blog 2017

Background: Twenty-five million people in the United States have limited English proficiency (LEP); this growing and aging population experiences worse outcomes when hospitalized. Federal requirements that hospitals provide language access services are very challenging to implement in the fast-paced, 24-hour hospital environment.

Objective: To determine if increasing access to professional interpreters improves hospital outcomes for older patients with LEP.

Design: Natural experiment on a medicine floor of an academic hospital.

Participants: Patients age 50 years or above discharged between January 15, 2007 and January 15, 2010.

Exposure: Dual-handset interpreter telephone at every bedside July 15, 2008 to Mar 14, 2009.

Outcome Measures: Thirty-day readmission, length of stay, estimated hospital expenditures.

Results: Of 8077 discharges, 1963 were for LEP, and 6114 for English proficient patients. There was a significant decrease in observed 30-day readmission rates for the LEP group during the 8-month intervention period compared with 18 months preintervention (17.8% vs. 13.4%); at the same time English proficient readmission rates increased (16.7% vs. 19.7%); results remained significant in adjusted analyses. This improved readmission outcome for the LEP group was not maintained during the subsequent postintervention period when the telephones became less accessible. There was no significant intervention impact on length of stay in either unadjusted or adjusted analyses. After accounting for interpreter services costs, the estimated 119 readmissions averted during the intervention period were associated with estimated monthly hospital expenditure savings of $161,404.

Conclusions: Comprehensive language access represents an important, high value service that all medical centers should provide to achieve equitable, quality healthcare for vulnerable LEP populations.

Department of Medicine, Multiethnic Health Equity Research Center, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA

Present address: Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health, 6707 Democracy Boulevard, Suite 800, Bethesda, MD 20892-5465.

Supported by the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health (R01 AG038684). P.S. was supported in part by the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research program of the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health (P30 AG15272).

The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or the official position(s) of the National Institutes of Health or any of the sponsoring organizations and agencies of the US government.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Leah S. Karliner, MD, MAS, 1545 Divisadero Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94143-0320. E-mail:

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