By Kelli Carrington, M.A.
Director, Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Many of us know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed during a doctor’s visit by information about health conditions, medicines, and behavior recommendations. For patients who don’t speak or understand English fluently, the situation can be more than overwhelming—it can be dangerous. Patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) are nearly three times more likely to have an adverse medical outcome.1
Language is one of the most significant barriers to health literacy, the ability to understand the basic health information needed to make good health decisions. Patients who lack health literacy are often unable to read or understand written health information or to speak with their healthcare providers about their symptoms or concerns. These patients are less likely to follow important health recommendations or be able to give informed consent.2
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 1 in 5 U.S. residents don’t speak English at home. Of that group, about 4 in 10, or 25 million people, have limited English proficiency.3 Many people with limited proficiency also live in households where no one speaks English well, meaning there isn’t a translator readily available to accompany them to doctor’s visits.
The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) is committed to addressing these language barriers and to improving the health literacy and lives of everyone living in America. We’re excited to announce a new tool, the Language Access Portal, as a resource for the NIMHD research community, public and community health professionals, healthcare providers, and others who work with health disparity populations with LEP. The portal improves access to cross-cultural and linguistically appropriate health information produced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIMHD, and other federal agencies.
The Language Access Portal pulls together health resources from across NIH in selected languages, particularly those languages spoken by populations experiencing significant health disparities. As we launch, the portal includes information in Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese. The portal currently has language resources for the following areas where health disparities have been identified:
The Language Access Portal is an important tool to help people working with LEP populations provide the information necessary for patients to make important health decisions. The portal will continue to evolve and incorporate new resources from NIMHD, NIH and other government agencies as they become available, so keep checking back. By working together and using tools like the Language Access Portal, we can begin to tackle these communication barriers and improve the health of every resident of this country.
- Divi, C., Koss, R.G., Schmaltz, S.P., Loeb, J.M. (2007) Language Proficiency and Adverse Events in US Hospitals: a pilot study. Int J Qual Health Care. 19 (2): 60-67.
- Lee, J.S., Pérez-Stable, E.J., Gregorich, S.E. et al. (2017). Increased Access to Professional Interpreters in the Hospital Improves Informed Consent for Patients with Limited English Proficiency. J GEN INTERN MED. doi:10.1007/s11606-017-3983-4
- U.S. Census Bureau. Table S1601: 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.