Getting By

Underuse of Interpreters by Resident Physicians

This qualitative study examined the underuse of interpreters by residents at two major urban teaching hospitals. Professional interpreters can improve communication and the quality of care received by patients not fluent in English, but remain underused even when their services are readily available.

The authors conducted interviews with 20 residents from urban hospitals with robust interpretation services.

Key Findings:

  • Residents underused professional interpretive services despite recognizing the value of these services.
  • The decision to use a professional interpreter was often based on time constraints and the relative urgency of the discussion with the patient.
  • Residents were less likely to use professional interpretation when family members were available to translate or when they could use their foreign language skills with the patient.

The underuse of professional interpretive services suggests that interpretation availability will not ensure appropriate use of interpreters without additional interventions.