Background: Growth of the foreign-born population in the U.S. has led to increasing numbers of limited-English-proficient (LEP) patients. Innovative medical interpreting strategies, including remote simultaneous medical interpreting (RSMI), have arisen to address the language barrier. This study evaluates the impact of interpreting method on patient satisfaction.
Methods: 1,276 English-, Spanish-, Mandarin-, and Cantonese-speaking patients attending the primary care clinic and emergency department of a large New York City municipal hospital were screened for enrollment in a randomized controlled trial. Language-discordant patients were randomized to RSMI or usual and customary (U&C) interpreting. Patients with language-concordant providers received usual care. Demographic and patient satisfaction questionnaires were administered to all participants.
Results: 541 patients were language-concordant with their providers and not randomized; 371 were randomized to RSMI, 167 of whom were exposed to RSMI; and 364 were randomized to U&C, 198 of whom were exposed to U&C. Patients randomized to RSMI were more likely than those with U&C to think doctors treated them with respect (RSMI 71%, U&C 64%, p < 0.05), but they did not differ in other measures of physician communication/care. In a linear regression analysis, exposure to RSMI was significantly associated with an increase in overall satisfaction with physician communication/care (beta 0.10, 95% CI 0.02-0.18, scale 0-1.0). Patients randomized to RSMI were more likely to think the interpreting method protected their privacy (RSMI 51%, U&C 38%, p < 0.05). Patients randomized to either arm of interpretation reported less comprehension and satisfaction than patients in language-concordant encounters.
Conclusions: While not a substitute for language-concordant providers, RSMI can improve patient satisfaction and privacy among LEP patients. Implementing RSMI should be considered an important component of a multipronged approach to addressing language barriers in health care.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00522327.