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Physicians at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine Encourage Eliminating Barriers for Patients with Limited English Proficiency

Friday, February 12, 2010

STRATFORD, NJ – Increases in the numbers of patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) have led to a need for health providers to become more familiar with state and federal guidelines that determine when appropriate linguistic services are needed, according to researchers at the Department of Family Medicine at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine. The researchers say that offering proper interpretation and translation services will minimize healthcare barriers that hinder treatment for patients with limited English proficiency,

Writing in the December issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, Joshua S. Coren, DO, MBA; Frank A. Filipetto, DO; and Lucia Beck Weiss, MS, identified the need for appropriate linguistic services in healthcare settings, as well as the adverse effects that can result when providers lack these services.

“Providing interpretation and translation services to patients with LEP is an important step in eliminating healthcare barriers and providing effective healthcare,” said Coren, the article’s lead author. "Communication obstacles are also challenging to the patients and insurance carriers, and can hinder efforts regarding diagnosis, treatment and self-care options. Other implications include the risk of inappropriate use of medications, lack of consent for procedures, confusion, and fear."

Coren noted that there are numerous federal and state regulations that are designed to protect patients with LEP from encountering healthcare barriers. All providers who receive federal funding must abide by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.

In addition, the Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), established in 2001 by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health requires that health care organizations receiving federal funding provide language assistance services, including bilingual staff and interpreter services, at no cost to each patient with LEP. Among those covered by this requirement are patients who use American Sign Language and those covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to familiarizing themselves with government mandates in an effort to provide quality care to patients with LEP, Coren and his team suggest that physicians develop and monitor plans that include training staff, providing language assistance, and notifying patients with LEP of special services.

“The medical community needs to be prepared to care for patients with Limited English Proficiency,” said Coren. “As the number of LEP patients increase, barriers that previously existed in communicating with them need to be dismantled.”

UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,900 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.

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