This issue brief from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services describes how health care providers are identifying and responding to the language needs of their patients who speak languages other than English, or are limited English proficient (LEP). The issue brief reports the findings from an online survey conducted by Medscape in 2013, completed by over 4,700 health care providers. This was a convenience sample of Medscape users, about half being nurses and 40% being physicians. Nearly 90% of the respondents were involved in direct patient care. Nearly half practiced in a hospital or hospital-based physician practice and about 20% practiced in a private practice.

Less than one-third of the respondents ask about patient language needs at intake and less than 10% track language needs in patient medical records. A full 16% of the respondents did not know how they assessed or planned for the language needs of their patients.

Nearly 60% of the respondents used telephonic interpreter services, over 40% used bilingual staff as interpreters, and one-third used on-site (in-person) trained interpreters. However, nearly 40% asked the family members of patients to act as untrained interpreters. Over half of the respondents in private practice asked the family members of patients to act as untrained interpreters. While over 80% of respondents practicing in acute care hospitals used telephonic interpreter services, only one-quarter of respondents in private practice used telephonic interpreter services.

These findings suggest the importance of continued emphasis on equitable care for individuals with limited English proficiency, and education around strategies and best practices to meet their needs.

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