Language and Health Equity during COVID-19: Lessons and Opportunities

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2020;31(4):1530-1535. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2020.0114.


Racial and ethnic health inequities have been magnified during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Linguistic barriers are a recognized source of health inequities for ethnic minority communities whose health communication needs cannot be adequately met in the majority language. Emergency circumstances, such as respiratory distress and end-of-life care, carry elevated risk of medical error due to miscommunication and are increasingly common during the current pandemic. We have identified three key opportunities to improve health equity for linguistic minority populations as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis: patient and clinician language data collection in health systems, linguistically and culturally appropriate public health messaging, and health care workforce communication skills education.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Communication Barriers
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Equity*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology