Language Assistance for the Care of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Patients in the Emergency Department: A Survey of Providers and Staff

J Immigr Minor Health. 2020 Jun;22(3):439-447. doi: 10.1007/s10903-019-00964-9.


Many ED patients have limited English proficiency (LEP). Under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, LEP patients are entitled to language assistance, however, multiple studies demonstrate that language assistance is underutilized. We aimed to characterize the knowledge, practice patterns, and preferences of ED providers and staff regarding language assistance for LEP patients. We performed a self-administered, anonymous questionnaire in an urban, public ED where most patients have LEP. Subjects included all ED providers and staff with substantial patient contact. We recorded ED role, knowledge of language assistance policy, prior training on working with interpreters, non-English language skills and bilingual certification. Outcomes included frequency of and comfort level with respondent's own non-English language (NEL) use in the ED, and the preferred and most frequently used modalities of language assistance. Of the 354 total ED employees, 261 were approached and 259 agreed to participate, which represents a 73% response rate (259/354). Respondents were 37% MD/NPs, 34% RNs and 29% other ED staff. Only 50/259 (19%) had prior training on working with interpreters. 171/257 (67%) were "unsure" if the hospital had a policy on language assistance. The most frequent modalities accessed for spoken language assistance were "Other ED staff" 106/259 (41%) or "ad hoc interpreter" 62/259 (24%). Although 227/274 (83%) use a non-English language with patients regularly, comfort levels in using their NEL for clinical care were variable. Most ED providers and staff had little training in the use of language assistance and were unaware of hospital policy. Use of NEL skills by providers for clinical care is common. Dissemination of best practices for the provision of language assistance and the clinical use of NEL skills has the potential to improve communication with LEP patients.

Keywords: Communication barriers; Interpreters; Language services; Limited English proficiency.

MeSH terms

  • Communication Barriers
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Limited English Proficiency*
  • Los Angeles
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Translating*