Language access research for community health: provider perspectives on language access techniques and the role of communication technology

J Commun Healthc. 2024 Mar;17(1):7-14. doi: 10.1080/17538068.2023.2237351. Epub 2023 Jul 20.


Background: In the United States, 66 million people speak a language other than English at home. Patients with diverse language needs often face significant health disparities. Information and communication technologies have expanded the realm of modalities for patient-provider communication. However, the extent to which digital language access tools are utilized by healthcare providers is unknown. This research examines provider perspectives on language assistance techniques and the role of communication technology when serving patients with non-English language preference (NELP).

Methods: Between April and July 2019, an online survey was administered to 3,033 healthcare providers (doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and dentists) in Washington State. Providers reported on their language access practices and perspectives on communication technology.

Results: Most providers reported using ad hoc language access techniques when engaging patients with NELP, such as a patient's family member or friend (75.8%), a patient's child specifically (61.9%), or a bilingual staff member (64.3%). Professional techniques, such as in-person interpretation (53.5%), phone interpretation (57%), and video remote interpretation (38.8%), were used less often. Dissatisfaction with the language access processes of healthcare providers' place of work was associated with a higher reliance on a patient's family or friend for language interpretation.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that providers might be under-utilizing professional and digital interpreter services while relying on ad hoc techniques. Such practices reveal systemic constraints on language access that might make it difficult for providers to access timely and reliable options for professional language interpretation, despite federal regulations that mandate such services for patients with NELP.

Keywords: Language access; communication technology; patient-provider communication.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Public Health*
  • Technology
  • Telephone
  • United States