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J Prim Health Care. 2013 Jun 1;5(2):129-37.

Is it time to talk? Interpreter services use in general practice within Canterbury.

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  • 1Pegasus Health (Charitable) Ltd, 160 Bealey Avenue, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand.



Effective communication is fundamental to successful health care service delivery, and has a positive impact on access, quality of care, health outcomes, and patient satisfaction. Although there are a growing number of New Zealanders who do not speak English proficiently, underutilisation of trained interpreter services appears to be common in primary health care settings.


To describe the pattern of interpreter service need and utilisation by general practice services, and to identify key barriers and enabling factors to the use of trained interpreters.


A mixed methods study was employed. Census and Partnership Health Canterbury Te Kei o Te Waka (PHC) databases were combined, and quantitative analysis used to derive interpreter service need and utilisation patterns. Transcripts of focus groups and interviews from general practitioners, practice nurses and practice administration staff within the PHC were analysed, using qualitative methods to identify barriers and enablers to interpreter service use.


For the years 2008-2010, approximately 10 742 consultations per year involved a non-Englishspeaking patient, yet in only approximately 74.8 (0.7%) consultations per year were interpreter services utilised. Analysis of focus groups and interviews identified four global themes that represented barriers for interpreter service utilisation; namely, practicalities, expectations, knowledge of service, and systems.


The current use of interpreter services in PHC general practice appears to be significantly less than the need. In order to maximise health outcomes and reduce risk, strategies must be initiated to counter the barriers currently inhibiting interpreter service use, including adopting best practice policies.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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