Language barriers related to increased hospital readmissions for Chinese- and Spanish-speaking patients

Research Activities, July 2011, No. 371

The number of patients in the United States who do not speak English or speak only limited English has risen in recent decades, presenting a challenge to health care systems to provide high-quality, patient-centered care for this group. In fact, a new study found that Chinese and Spanish speakers were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than English speakers. However, 30-day mortality rates and hospital costs and length of stay were similar for non-English and English speakers.

When the researchers looked more closely at outcomes by language-ethnicity group, they found that when compared directly with English-speaking Asians and Latinos, Chinese and Spanish speakers' higher readmission rates persisted. Among English speakers, blacks had the highest and Latinos the lowest readmission rates.

The results indicate that language barriers may contribute to higher readmission rates for non-English speakers, but have less impact on care efficiency or mortality. Since only 14 percent of the non-English speaking patients used professional staff interpreters, the researchers suggest a need to develop and assess best practices for creating a culture of professional interpreter use in the hospital. Included in the study were 7,023 patients admitted to an urban university hospital who spoke English (84 percent), Chinese (8 percent), Spanish (4 percent), and Russian (4 percent). This study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10597, HS11416).

See "Influence of language barriers on outcomes of hospital care in general medicine in patients," by Leah S. Karliner, M.D., Sue E. Kim, Ph.D., David O. Meltzer, M.D., Ph.D., and Andrew D. Auerbach, M.D., in the Journal of Hospital Medicine 5, pp. 276-282, 2010.

Current as of July 2011
Internet Citation: Language barriers related to increased hospital readmissions for Chinese- and Spanish-speaking patients: Research Activities, July 2011, No. 371. July 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/jul11/0711RA4.html