Despite efforts to advance effective patient-provider communication, many patients' language needs continue to be unmet or inappropriately addressed by healthcare providers (Wielawski 2010; Patek et al. 2009; Wilson-Stronks and Galvez 2007). This study presents a picture of the language resources currently provided by hospitals and those resources practitioners actually use. Questionnaire data were collected from 14 hospitals in Florida's Palm Beach, St. Lucie, and Martin counties on availability, staff awareness, and staff use of linguistic resources and services.
Inconsistencies were identified between the language tools, services, and resources hospitals provide and those staff use. In addition, a large majority of staff respondents still rely upon someone accompanying the patient for communication with patients who have limited English proficiency, despite evidence that this practice contributes to miscommunication and serious medical errors (Flores et al. 2003; Flores 2005; HHS OMH 2001; Patek et al. 2009). Hospitals that use bilingual staff as interpreters often do not test the competency of these staff, nor do they assess the utilization or effectiveness of the tools and resources they provide.
Hospitals can improve the cultural and linguistic care they provide if they (1) address the practice of using ad hoc interpreters, (2) effectively disseminate information to hospital staff regarding how and when to access available resources, and (3) collect patient population data and use it to plan for and evaluate the language services they provide to their patients.