Linguistic and cultural barriers to care

J Gen Intern Med. 2003 Jan;18(1):44-52. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.20205.x.


Context: Primarily because of immigration, Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse minority groups in the United States. However, little is known about their perspectives on health care quality.

Objective: To examine factors contributing to quality of care from the perspective of Chinese- and Vietnamese-American patients with limited English language skills.

Design: Qualitative study using focus groups and content analysis to determine domains of quality of care.

Setting: Four community health centers in Massachusetts.

Participants: A total of 122 Chinese- and Vietnamese-American patients were interviewed in focus groups by bilingual interviewers using a standardized, translated moderator guide.

Main outcome measures: Domains of quality of care mentioned by patients in verbatim transcripts.

Results: In addition to dimensions of health care quality commonly expressed by Caucasian, English-speaking patients in the United States, Chinese- and Vietnamese-American patients with limited English proficiency wanted to discuss the use of non-Western medical practices with their providers, but encountered significant barriers. They viewed providers' knowledge, inquiry, and nonjudgmental acceptance of traditional Asian medical beliefs and practices as part of quality care. Patients also considered the quality of interpreter services to be very important. They preferred using professional interpreters rather than family members, and preferred gender-concordant translators. Furthermore, they expressed the need for help in navigating health care systems and obtaining support services.

Conclusions: Cultural and linguistically appropriate health care services may lead to improved health care quality for Asian-American patients who have limited English language skills. Important aspects of quality include providers' respect for traditional health beliefs and practices, access to professional interpreters, and assistance in obtaining social services.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asian Americans / psychology*
  • China / ethnology
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Community Health Centers / standards*
  • Culture*
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Massachusetts
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Vietnam / ethnology