Examining Effectiveness of Medical Interpreters in Emergency Departments for Spanish-Speaking Patients With Limited English Proficiency

When provided with a professionally trained interpreter, Spanish-speaking patients expressed very high levels of satisfaction with their emergency department visits.

This trial occurred in the emergency departments (ED) of a suburban and urban hospital in Central New Jersey; both were large hospitals with busy EDs. The authors divided each day into several time-blocks; those blocks were then assigned to control or treatment groups. During control time-blocks, ED patients were provided the hospital’s usual, ad hoc interpreter services. During treatment time-blocks, in addition to the hospital’s interpreter, a professionally trained interpreter was available. Immediately following each visit, patients and providers rated their satisfaction by completing a brief survey.

Key Findings:

  • In the treatment group, 96 percent of patients were very satisfied, compared with only 24 percent in the control group.
  • In the treatment group, 93 percent of patients found it very easy to understand their interactions, compared with 18 percent in the control group.
  • Among physicians and nurses, there was significantly greater satisfaction with treatment versus control group visits.

This study found that the services of a professionally trained Spanish-language interpreter greatly improved patient and provider satisfaction during ED visits.