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Identifying Spanish Language Competent Physicians: The Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)

Language barriers negatively impact health care access and quality for US immigrants. Latinos are the second largest immigrant group and the largest, fastest growing minority. Health care systems need simple, low cost and accurate tools that they can use to identify physicians with Spanish language competence. We sought to address this need by validating a simple and low-cost tool already in use in a major health plan. A web-based survey conducted in 2012 among physicians caring for patients in a large, integrated health care delivery system. Of the 2,198 survey respondents, 111 were used in additional analysis involving patient report of those physicians’ fluency. We compared health care physicians’ responses to a single item, Spanish language self-assessment tool (measuring “medical proficiency”) with patient-reported physician language competence, and two validated physician self-assessment tools (measuring “fluency” and “confidence”). Concordance between medical proficiency was moderate with patient reports (weighted Kappa .45), substantial with fluency (weighted Kappa .76), and moderate-to-substantial with confidence (weighted Kappas .53 to .66). The single-question self-reported medical proficiency tool is a low-cost tool useful for quickly identifying Spanish competent physicians and is potentially suitable for use in clinical settings. A reasonable approach for health systems is to designate only those physicians who self-assess their Spanish medical proficiency as “high” as competent to provide care without an interpreter.

Authors: Chaufan C; Karter AJ; Moffet HH; Quan J; Parker MM; Kruger J; Schillinger D; Fernandez A

Ethn Dis. 2016 Oct 20;26(4):537-544. Epub 2016-Oct-20.

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