Describing Physician Language Fluency

Deconstructing Medical Spanish

This article addresses the absence of formal assessment of physician fluency in foreign languages, particularly Spanish. Since physicians often speak with patients using second-language skills rather than via a professional interpreter, health care facilities need stronger standards regarding physician foreign language skills.


  • Health care facilities should adopt a standard scale similar to the one used by the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) to assess fluency in foreign languages.
  • Overall language fluency should be assessed, not just the speaker's command of medical terminology in the foreign language.
  • Once physician fluency is assessed on a standard scale, organizations should set policy so that physician fluency is linked to use of professional interpreters.