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J Gen Intern Med. 2007 Nov;22 Suppl 2:294-9.

The impact of language barriers on documentation of informed consent at a hospital with on-site interpreter services.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.



Informed consent is legally and ethically required before invasive non-emergent procedures. Language barriers make obtaining informed consent more complex.


Determine the impact of language barriers on documentation of informed consent among patients in a teaching hospital with on-site interpreter services.


Matched retrospective chart review study.


Eligible Chinese- and Spanish-speaking patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) who received a thoracentesis, paracentesis, or lumbar puncture were matched with eligible English-speaking patients by procedure, hospital service, and date of procedure.


Charts were reviewed for documentation of informed consent (IC), including a procedure note documenting an IC discussion and a signed consent form. For LEP patients, full documentation of informed consent also included evidence of interpretation, or a consent form in the patient's primary language.


Seventy-four procedures in LEP patients were matched with 74 procedures in English speakers. Charts of English-speaking patients were more likely than those of LEP patients to contain full documentation of informed consent (53% vs 28%; odds ratio (OR): 2.81; 95% CI, 1.42-5.56; p = 0.003). Upon multivariate analysis adjusting for patient and service factors, English speakers remained more likely than LEP patients to have full documentation of informed consent (Adj OR: 3.10; 95% CI, 1.49-6.47; p = 0.003). When examining the components of informed consent, charts of English-speaking and LEP patients were similar in the proportion documenting a consent discussion; however, charts of English speakers were more likely to contain a signed consent form in any language (85% vs 70%, p = 0.03).


Despite the availability of on-site professional interpreter services, hospitalized patients who do not speak English are less likely to have documentation of informed consent for common invasive procedures. Hospital quality initiatives should consider monitoring informed consent for LEP patients.

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