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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38507. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038507. Epub 2012 Jun 4.

Exploring the impact of language services on utilization and clinical outcomes for diabetics.

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  • 1Institute for Community Health, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.



Significant health disparities exist between limited English proficient and English-proficient patients. Little is known about the impact of language services on chronic disease outcomes such as for diabetes.


To determine whether the amount and type of language services received during primary care visits had an impact on diabetes-related outcomes (hospitalization, emergency room utilization, glycemic control) in limited English proficient patients, a retrospective cohort design was utilized. Hospital and medical record data was examined for 1425 limited English proficient patients in the Cambridge Health Alliance diabetes registry. We categorized patients receiving usual care into 7 groups based on the amount and combination of language services (language concordant providers, formal interpretation and nothing) received at primary care visits during a 9 month period. Bivariate analyses and multiple logistic regression were used to determine relationships between language service categories and outcomes in the subsequent 6 months. Thirty-one percent of patients (445) had no documentation of interpreter use or seeing a language concordant provider in any visits. Patients who received 100% of their primary care visits with language concordant providers were least likely to have diabetes-related emergency department visits compared to other groups (p<0001) in the following 6 months. Patients with higher numbers of co-morbidities were more likely to receive formal interpretation.


Language concordant providers may help reduce health care utilization for limited English proficient patients with diabetes. However, given the lack of such providers in sufficient numbers to meet patients' communication needs, strategies are needed to both increase their numbers and ensure that the highest risk patients receive the most appropriate language services. In addition, systems serving diverse populations must clarify why some limited English proficient patients do not receive language services at some or all of their visits and whether this has an impact on quality of care.

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