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Med Care. 2011 Jul;49(7):668-72. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318215d803.

Patient-physician language concordance and primary care screening among spanish-speaking patients.

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  • 1Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



Language discordance between patient and physician is associated with worse patient self-reported healthcare quality. As Hispanic patients have low rates of cardiovascular and cancer screening, we sought to determine whether patient-physician language concordance was associated with differences in rates of screening.


We performed a retrospective medical record review of 101 Spanish-speaking patients cared for by 6 Spanish-speaking PCPs (language-concordant group) and 205 Spanish-speaking patients cared for by 44 non-Spanish-speaking PCPs (language-discordant group). Patients were included in the study if they were of age 35 to 75 years and had used interpreter services 2001 to 2006 in 2 Boston-based primary care clinics. Our outcomes included screening for hyperlipidemia, diabetes, cervical cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer with age-appropriate and sex-appropriate subgroups. Our main predictor of interest was patient-physician language concordance. In multivariable modeling, we adjusted for age, sex, insurance status, number of primary care visits, and comorbidities. We adjusted for clustering of patients within individual physicians and clinic sites using generalized estimating equations.


Patients in the language-discordant group tended to be female compared with patients in the language-concordant group. There were no significant differences in age, insurance status, number of primary care visits, or Charlson comorbidity index between the 2 groups. Rates of screening for hyperlipidemia, diabetes, cervical cancer, and breast cancer were similar for both language-concordant and language-discordant groups. However, patients in the language-concordant group were less likely to be screened for colorectal cancer compared with the language-discordant group risk ratio 0.78 (95% confidence interval, 0.61-0.99) after multivariable adjustment.


This study finds that Spanish-speaking patients cared for by language-concordant PCPs were not more likely to receive recommended screening for cardiovascular risk factors and cancer. Furthermore, language concordance was associated with lower likelihood colorectal cancer screening. Further research is needed to examine which conditions are optimal to improve cardiovascular and cancer screening for Spanish-speaking patients, particularly for colorectal cancer, which has a low rate of screening.

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