Non-English Speakers Costing Physician Practices $19,000 a Year, Study Finds
By JESSICA LONG
San Diego Business Journal Staff
Treating patients who speak little-to-no English costs individual physician practices on average $19,000 a year, according to a report released here last week.
Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians, a national organization representing 120,000 internal medicine physicians, related subspecialists and medical students released that finding last week during its annual meeting. More than 6,000 medical professionals attended the four-day event staged at the San Diego Convention Center.
The report is titled â€œLanguage Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a National Survey of Internal Medicine Physicians.â€? In it, a random sample of 2,077 physicians nationwide responded.
â€œTwo-thirds of the internists in our survey reported having trouble with patients of limited English proficiency,â€? said Dr. William Golden, noting that Spanish-speaking patients represented the largest pool, especially in a region such as San Diego.
Chinese, Russian, Korean and Vietnamese, respectively, were the most predominantly reported languages after Spanish.
Golden is outgoing chair of the ACPâ€™s board.
Outgoing President Dr. Lynne Kirk commented on the need for more standardized medical literature to be published in multiple languages to help ease the burden placed on physicians.
â€œThe ability to communicate back and forth is extremely critical,â€? said Kirk. â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter how brilliant a physician is â€¦ unless a patient understands how complex their illness is.â€?
According to Golden, the added costs range from paying a translator to the extra time spent trying to get non-English speakers to explain their ailments and understand directions on their treatments.
Although not directly addressed in the survey, the costs caused by unnecessary X-rays, blood work and other diagnostic tests prompted by a lack of communication is also great, Golden said.
While many physicians rely on patientsâ€™ family members to translate, the practice raises several ethical and legal dilemmas in terms of accuracy and privacy, especially when a child translates for an adult. Office staff can also be affected when paperwork and billing has to be discussed.
â€œI think clearly the amount of money that could be saved is enormous,â€? Golden said.