Do physicians spend more time with non-English-speaking patients?

J Gen Intern Med. 1999 May;14(5):303-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1999.00338.x.


Objective: To determine whether physicians at a general internal medicine clinic spend more time with non-English-speaking patients.

Design: A time-motion study comparing physician time spent with non-English-speaking patients and time spent with English-speaking patients during 5 months of observation. We also tested physicians' perceptions of their time use with a questionnaire.

Setting: Primary care internal medicine clinic at a county hospital.

Patients/participants: One hundred sixty-six established clinic patients, of whom 57 were non-English speaking and 109 were English speaking, and 15 attending physicians and 8 third-year resident physicians.

Measurements and main results: Outcome measures included total patient time in clinic, wait for first nurse or physician contact, time in contact with the nurse or physician, physician time spent on the visit, and physician perceptions of time use with non-English-speaking patients. After adjustment for demographic and comorbidity variables, non-English-speaking and English-speaking patients did not differ on any time-motion variables, including physician time spent on the visit (26.0 vs 25.8 minutes). A significant number of clinic physicians believed that they spent more time during a visit with non-English-speaking patients (85.7%) and needed more time to address important issues during a visit (90. 4%), (both p <.01). Physicians did not perceive differences in the amount they accomplished during a visit with non-English-speaking patients.

Conclusions: There were no differences in the time these physicians spent providing care to non-English-speaking patients and English-speaking patients. An important limitation of this study is that we were unable to measure quality of care provided or patients' satisfaction with their care. Physicians may believe that they are spending more time with non-English-speaking patients because of the challenges of language and cultural barriers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / methods
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / standards*
  • Internal Medicine / trends
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Time Factors
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • United States