Objective: To determine if professional medical interpreters have a positive impact on clinical care for limited English proficiency (LEP) patients.
Data sources: A systematic literature search, limited to the English language, in PubMed and PsycINFO for publications between 1966 and September 2005, and a search of the Cochrane Library.
Study design: Any peer-reviewed article which compared at least two language groups, and contained data about professional medical interpreters and addressed communication (errors and comprehension), utilization, clinical outcomes, or satisfaction were included. Of 3,698 references, 28 were found by multiple reviewers to meet inclusion criteria and, of these, 21 assessed professional interpreters separately from ad hoc interpreters. Data were abstracted from each article by two reviewers. Data were collected on the study design, size, comparison groups, analytic technique, interpreter training, and method of determining the participants' need for an interpreter. Each study was evaluated for the effect of interpreter use on four clinical topics that were most likely to either impact or reflect disparities in health and health care.
Principal findings: In all four areas examined, use of professional interpreters is associated with improved clinical care more than is use of ad hoc interpreters, and professional interpreters appear to raise the quality of clinical care for LEP patients to approach or equal that for patients without language barriers.
Conclusions: Published studies report positive benefits of professional interpreters on communication (errors and comprehension), utilization, clinical outcomes and satisfaction with care.