Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Bartels S. Medical Interpretation Services and Their Effect on Quality Health Care. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2019 Mar.


Copyright Stacie Bartels 2019


With half of the foreign born population in the United States speaking English less than very well, communication barriers quickly arise and become especially trivial when present in health care settings. Current literature supports the idea that low English proficient (LEP) patients experience poorer health care outcomes than language concordant patients. Though it is evident that interpreter services are needed, it remains unclear which methods (in-person, telephone, videoconferencing, bilingual physicians) are best for communicating effectively and achieving positive health outcomes for LEP patients. This paper analyzed current literature to identify how certain interpretation methods stand up against others, how often professional language service are used, and how culture of LEP patients plays a role in medical interpretation. The results confirmed previous speculation that ad hoc interpretation should not be utilized in health care wherever possible. There was inconsistency between the different methods of interpretation (in-person, telephone, videoconferencing, bilingual physicians), but a general trend made it clear that any type of professional language service is superior to untrained interpreting and vastly better than not using an interpreter at all. Even with this knowledge, use of interpreter services is incredibly low. The literature also shows a gap in research looking at the role of culture in communication with medical interpreters. All of these findings suggest that further research should be done to 1) better isolate and examine different methods of interpretation, 2) measure objective health outcomes, and 3) explore the role of culture in understanding and treating one’s health when language barriers exist. Additionally, there needs to be structured education required for interpreters and health providers to ensure the best communicative strategies for LEP patients.