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ED Interpreters Improve Physician, Patient Satisfaction

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 2, 2010

Professional on-site interpreters in the emergency department greatly improve patient and physician satisfaction, and might improve efficiencies and outcomes, according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"The magnitude of the difference was striking: Patients who had professional in-person interpreters were four times more likely to be satisfied than patients who didn't," said Ann Bagchi, of Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, the lead author of Examining Effectiveness of Medical Interpreters in Emergency Departments for Spanish-Speaking Patients with Limited English Proficiency: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial.

"The results were the same for physicians and nurses, which could be important for reducing staff burnout and errors. The improved quality of care can also reduce the likelihood that a patient will return to the ER for the same health problem," Bagchi said.

Researchers enrolled 242 patients in the in-person, professional interpreter group and 205 patients in the control group. Of the patients assigned to the interpreter group, 96% were "very satisfied" with their ability to communicate during the ER visit. Of the patients in the control group, only 24% were "very satisfied."

"Professional interpreters can improve efficiency and throughput in the ER and can shorten overall length of stay, an important consideration in view of Press Ganey's recent report showing a new high in the average amount of time people are spending in the ER," said study co-author Robert Eisenstein, MD, vice chair of emergency medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

"Using the same interpreter from triage to discharge creates continuity of care and also ensures that we are not missing anything important when talking to the patient," Eisenstein said. "It has the potential to help us get a more accurate patient assessment on arrival in the emergency department as well as better patient compliance with discharge instructions because the patient actually understands what we're telling them to do!"

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