Describing Physician Language Fluency

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.