Physicians are struggling to overcome language and cultural barriers in communicating with patients, according to a new national survey released by the Center for Studying Health System Change.
The survey, Modest and Uneven: Physician Efforts to Reduce Racial/Ethnic Disparities, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that nearly half (48.6%) of all physicians in 2008 had reported minor communications problems associated with language or cultural barriers, affecting their ability to provide high-quality care. While less than 5% viewed it as a major problem, physicians' efforts to overcome communication barriers “are modest and uneven,” the survey stated.
Although 22% of physicians said their practice had information technology capabilities to report patients' preferred language, only about 7% reported they routinely used IT to keep track of patients' preferred languages. Forty percent said they had received training in minority health issues and slightly more than half said their practices provided some interpreter services, according to the HSC survey.
“Although disparities certainly stem from factors beyond the physician-patient encounter, the ability of physicians to communicate effectively with patients from diverse backgrounds is important to providing high-quality care,” said James Reschovsky, HSC senior researcher and co-author of the study, in a written statement.
The findings are drawn from HSC's nationally representative 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, and includes responses from more than 4,700 physicians. The response rate for the survey was 62%.