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Pediatr Emerg Care. 2002 Aug;18(4):271-84.

The importance of cultural and linguistic issues in the emergency care of children.

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Center for the Advancement of Urban Children, Department of Pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin, and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA.



Rapid growth in the diversity of the US population makes it increasingly likely that emergency clinicians will encounter greater numbers of patients from different cultures, but little is known about the importance of culture and language in the emergency care of children.


To conduct a critical review and synthesis of published studies on culture and language in the emergency care of children.


PubMed was used to perform a literature search (using 17 search terms) of all articles on culture, language, and the emergency care of children published in English or Spanish from 1966 to 1999.


More than 2000 citations initially were identified; consensus review yielded 400 papers that were photocopied. A final database of 117 articles revealed the following: certain normative cultural values, such as the Navajo hozhooji (the importance of thinking and speaking positively), can have profound effects on informed consent and discussions of medical risk. For limited English proficient children and their families, studies document that medical interpreters frequently are not used, there is a lack of trained interpreters, there are more access barriers, and those who need but do not get interpreters have poor understanding of their diagnosis and treatment. Numerous folk illnesses, such as among Latinos, can affect care, because symptoms often overlap with important biomedical conditions, the first clinical contact may be with folk healers, and certain folk remedies are harmful or even fatal. Certain parent beliefs and practices can result in serious morbidity and fatalities (from lead poisoning, liver failure, and other causes), costly or unnecessary medical evaluations (eg, Fenugreek teas), and clinical findings easily confused with child abuse (eg, coining). Biased provider attitudes and practices can have profound clinical consequences, including ethnic disparities in prescriptions, analgesia, test ordering, sexual history taking, asthma care quality, and diagnostic evaluations.


Failure to appreciate the importance of culture and language in pediatric emergencies can result in multiple adverse consequences, including difficulties with informed consent, miscommunication, inadequate understanding of diagnoses and treatment by families, dissatisfaction with care, preventable morbidity and mortality, unnecessary child abuse evaluations, lower quality of care, clinician bias, and ethnic disparities in prescriptions, analgesia, test ordering, and diagnostic evaluations.

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