Research shows that hospitals' reliance on ad hoc interpreters for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP)—including patients' children, adult family members, or hospital employees—can compromise the quality of care. To better understand training practices and problems in caring for LEP patients, the authors surveyed resident physicians at 149 hospitals. More than one-third of residents reported they received very little or no training in working with medical interpreters during residency. When facing language barriers, 77 percent of residents said they sometimes or often used professional interpreters, 84 percent said they used adult family members and friends, 77 percent used other hospital employees, and 22 percent used children. More than half of residents said they faced moderate or big problems in delivering cross-cultural care due to lack of access to medical interpreters (54%) and lack of translated written materials (62%). The authors believe that training in patients' legal rights is needed to help residents reduce their reliance on ad hoc interpreters; yet only half of residents reported they received such instruction. Resident physicians, the authors conclude, must know not only how to obtain trained interpreters, but why they should use them and how to employ them effectively.
K. C. Lee; J. P. Winickoff; M. K. Kim et al., Resident Physicians' Use of Professional and Nonprofessional Interpreters: A National Survey, Journal of the American Medical Association, September 2006 296(9): 1050–1053