The Language Gap: Are Some Patients Underserved?

This is the first study to compare physician and patient languages in the top 50 metro areas of the U.S.
This is the first study to compare physician and patient languages in the top 50 metro areas of the U.S.

There may be a significant language gap in large metro areas of the U.S. between physician and patients according to new research conducted by the physician social network, Doximity, and U.C. Berkeley.

Researchers analyzed data from >60,000 physician responders based in the 50 largest metropolitan areas and compared this with U.S. census data, making it the first study to compare the language of physicians in top metro areas of the U.S. with the language spoken by patients in those same areas. "Understanding imbalances between languages can help address communication challenges across our health care system," said Nate Gross, MD, co-founder of Doximity.

The results showed that of the top 10 non-English languages spoken by both patients and physicians, only 2 of the languages overlapped. The top 10 non-English language spoken by physicians who are multilingual were: 

  1. Spanish (36.2%)
  2. Hindi (13.8%)
  3. French (8.8%)
  4. Persian/Farsi (7.6%)
  5. Chinese (5.2%)
  6. Arabic (4.1%)
  7. German (3.7%)
  8. Russian (3.0%)
  9. Italian (2.7%)
  10. Hebrew (1.9%)

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Close to half (44.7%) of the multilingual physicians in the study graduated from a medical school outside of the U.S. The languages spoken by patients having the least overlap with physicians were: 

  1. Swahili and Sub-Saharan African
  2. Hamitic and Near East Arabic
  3. Polynesian
  4. Burmese and Southeast Asian
  5. Filipino
  6. Korean
  7. Indonesian
  8. Vietnamese
  9. Thai
  10. Japanese

Also ranked by researchers were the top 10 metro areas where non-English speaking patients would most likely find a significant language gap:

  1. Washington, DC
  2. Louisville, KY
  3. Minneapolis
  4. Baltimore
  5. Seattle
  6. Detroit
  7. Boston
  8. Pittsburgh, PA
  9. Nashville, TN
  10. Jacksonville, FL

Literature (Wasserman et al. 2014) has demonstrated that more adverse events occur in patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) due to communication issues. "Understanding the scope of this problem is the first step to creating solutions for people with limited English proficiency," said lead author of the research, Christopher Whaley, PhD, U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health.

For more information visit Doximity.com.