Study sheds light on opportunities to improve health outcomes for non-English speakers – The Source

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed longstanding disparities in health outcomes by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Addressing the root causes of these disparities is essential to close the gap and ensure that all patients receive quality care.

New research from Washington University in St. Louis highlights how language barriers between providers and patients whose primary language is not English may have contributed to the problem, and offers strategies to improve care .


Cindy Brantmeier, Professor of Applied Linguistics in Arts and Sciences, and a multidisciplinary team of WashU researchers surveyed more than 300 healthcare workers in St. Louis to examine their perceptions of communications with patients said to be linguistically diverse at the start of the pandemic. of COVID-19 and one year later.

The results – published in the Journal of Nursing and Patient Health Care – show that respondents felt more prepared to discuss their knowledge of COVID-19 with patients of diverse languages ​​one year after the start of the pandemic than at the start. . They also felt that their patients better understood the meaning of individual words in the context of discussing COVID-19. However, most respondents felt that these patients still did not have sufficient access to health information.

“Health literacy, or an individual’s ability to acquire and use new health information, is a strong predictor of health status,” Brantmeier said. “Even before the pandemic, some researchers believed that language was one of the most important social determinants of health and deserved increased attention in our medical system.”

Rapidly changing medical information about COVID-19, a wave of misinformation and personal protective equipment have created significant communication issues in the health care setting. These challenges are even more difficult when the patient and the provider do not speak the same language.

In the survey, healthcare workers provided feedback on information available from the community and healthcare facilities, oral communication with patients, and training of healthcare professionals.


Previous work by Brantmeier and Mike Strube, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, on self-report in language acquisition studies – where they validate learners’ assessments of their own strengths and weaknesses through language abilities by the actual performance bias – served as the basis for the public health investigation.

According to Brantmeier, a positive finding of the study is that most healthcare workers indicated that the St. Louis community and their facilities were aware of the COVID-19 resource needs for linguistic minorities. Another highlight of the study is that the majority of healthcare workers indicated that they would be interested in further training in communication skills.

“Health care facilities and the community have provided an increased amount of communication resources over time,” she said. “Respondents also pointed to positive and responsive leadership and initiatives that attempted to ensure equal access to health care during the public health crisis.”

Brantmeier said she hopes the study will be used to raise awareness of the impact of communicating with patients of diverse languages ​​on health outcomes. The research team intends to go beyond this study and investigate patient and client perceptions of actual communication immediately after a visit.

“This study illustrates the need for healthcare professionals to learn about self-reported perceived competence and, therefore, to develop communication strategies and tools – including strategies to use when an interpreter is not immediately available to facilitate communication between provider and patient,” she said. .

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