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Communication Barriers May Complicate Interactions between Providers, Spanish-Speaking Parents

Posted: July 14, 2017

Spanish-speaking parents seeking care for their children may encounter communication barriers with providers, according to a study published in the January-February issue of Academic Pediatrics. Children often must depend on their parents or guardians to relay their health issues to providers, making communication between parents and providers all the more important.

Researchers analyzed data from the 2011 and 2012 California Health Interview Survey public use child files. The survey assessed children’s health and health care experiences through interviews with their parents. The study looked at experiences of Hispanic children in relation to their parents’ household language and citizenship status. While there were no significant differences in care in regard to parents’ language or citizenship, disparities in provider-patient communication were identified.

Parents who both only spoke Spanish and those who were both non-citizens were the least likely to report that their children’s providers gave them clear instructions, and were also the least likely to communicate with their children’s doctors via phone or email. Parents who were both non-citizens were also less likely to report that their children’s doctors listened carefully to them.

Even non-citizens are afforded relatively good access to care in California, with enrollment in the state-funded Medicaid program, according to Roby, director of graduate studies in the Department of Health Services Administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. However, the study indicated gaps in access among people who are not citizens and do not speak English fluently persist.

While people who do not speak English have the right to a health care interpreter, people may be unaware that the option is available to them, Roby said. In addition, he noted, some health care systems rely on LanguageLine Solutions for interpretation services, but the system may complicate communication when passing a phone back and forth between a health care provider and parent.

Read more on Read the abstract of the study.

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