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Majority of Internal Medicine Practices Provide Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency

Survey from American College of Physicians Released During Internal Medicine 2007

ACP leadership discussed the just-released policy paper 'Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians.' Panelists were William E. Golden, MD, MACP, Chair, Board of Regents (left) and Lynne M. Kirk, MD, MACP, ACP President.


ACP leadership discussed the just-released policy paper "Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians." Panelists were William E. Golden, MD, MACP, Chair, Board of Regents (left) and Lynne M. Kirk, MD, MACP, ACP President.



SAN DIEGO, April 20, 2007 - The majority of practices represented by internists that have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients provide language services, the American College of Physicians (ACP) reported today as it released a report on language access in health care. "Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians" reported that a majority of the internists surveyed agree that it is difficult to provide patient care to LEP patients when language services are not available.

To determine whether internal medicine practices of members of the American College of Physicians provide language services and to better ensure effective communication for LEP patients, the ACP conducted a survey of its members during late 2006. The study was made possible through a grant from the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) with funds provided by The California Endowment.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fifty-two million people - 19.4 percent of the U.S. population - speak a language other than English at home. Of these, 44.6 percent speak English "less than very well." Estimates of the number of people with LEP range from 11 million to 21 million people.

"Nearly two-thirds of internists report having active patients with LEP," noted ACP President Lynne M. Kirk, MD, FACP. "On average, patients with LEP comprise 12 percent of active patients in the practices of ACP member internists. Physicians encounter such patients on a fairly frequent basis."

Yet, medical practices typically do not have a formal process for tracking data on patients' primary language and those that do rely primarily on paper records. These patients have more difficulty understanding basic health information and generally require additional time during office visits.

Language services, however, are limited and are typically provided by a bilingual physician or staff member. Nevertheless, the aggregate costs are mostly borne by the physician practice. Few practices rely on external sources for language services or provide such services during off hours.

Few physicians perceived a need for tools or training to assist their practices in providing language services, ACP found. A clearinghouse to provide translated documents and patient education materials would be useful, but providing reimbursement for the added costs of clinical time and language services would be the most effective means of expanding the use of language services.

The report on the survey findings concluded with three recommendations:

  • Language services should be available to improve the provision of health care services to patients with LEP.

  • Medicare should directly reimburse clinicians for the added expense of language services and the additional time involved in providing clinical care for patients with LEP.

  • A national clearinghouse should be established to provide translated documents and patient education materials.

The paper summarizing the language access survey findings was endorsed earlier this week by the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians. It can be found online at: www.acponline.org and www.healthlaw.org.

This press release is available in: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Greek, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

The American College of Physicians (ACP), the leading professional organization for internal medicine, is holding its annual scientific meeting, Internal Medicine 2007, in San Diego April 19-21. More than 6,000 internists, medical students, and other health care professionals are expected. Internal Medicine 2007 is the largest continuing education meeting for internists, who specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults. Internal medicine physicians provide care for both acute and chronic diseases. More than half of the nation's adults consider an internist as their primary care physician.

The American College of Physicians (www.acponline.org) is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 120,000 internal medicine physicians, related subspecialists, and medical students. ACP works to enhance the quality and effectiveness of health care by fostering excellence and professionalism in the practice of medicine.

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