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A study finds that foreign-born Latinos view the quality of their health care treatment more positively when their doctors speak the same language.

Foreign-born Latinos view the quality of their health care treatment more positively when medical professionals speak to them in the same language, according to a recent study by William Vega, executive director of the Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging at the USC School of Social Work.

Vega and colleagues found that these higher ratings for health care quality couldn’t be explained by socioeconomic factors. When patient and provider spoke the same language, the Latino patients reported less confusion and frustration with the information received from clinicians and gave their health treatment better overall ratings.

Vega notes that “when patient and clinicians do not speak the same language, there are negative consequences for the patient.”

One in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home, and some speak little or no English. Latinos make up the largest, fastest growing ethnic/racial group in the United States: The U.S. census projects that by 2050, roughly a third of the U.S. population will be Latino.

New health care reforms will need to adequately address language barriers that can lead to discrimination in quality of care for this growing population, Vega stresses. This is necessary to finally fulfill the mandate of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, enacted more than 40 years ago. Title VI’s goal was to prevent discrimination from being funded by federal dollars, and nearly all health care organizations receive some form of federal funding.

According to Vega, it is incumbent upon health care providers to ensure that language barriers don’t impact the quality of patient care. “Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act offered a specific assurance that patients who speak a primary language other than English should receive services in a language they could fully understand,” he points out.

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