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Acad Pediatr. 2019 Aug 5. pii: S1876-2859(18)30620-X. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2019.07.006. [Epub ahead of print]

The use and impact of professional interpretation in a pediatric emergency department.

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Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, Washington, University of Washington. Electronic address:
Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, Washington, University of Washington.



Patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) experience worse healthcare outcomes compared to English proficient (EP) patients, and professional interpretation is underutilized in clinical settings. The objectives of this study were to describe patterns of interpreter use in a pediatric emergency department (ED), to determine factors associated with its use, and to examine differences in outcomes between EP families and those with LEP.


ED encounters for LEP and EP patients were reviewed in a retrospective cohort study design over a 15 month period. Generalized estimating equations were used to compare patient encounters and factors associated with interpreter use.


Interpreter use for families who preferred a non-English language was 45.4%. Use of interpretation was less likely during busier times of day (OR 0.85, CI 0.78-0.93), with a lower triage acuity (OR 0.66, CI 0.62-0.70), and with each increasing year of patient age (OR 0.97, CI 0.96-0.98). LEP patients who did not receive interpretation were less likely to be admitted than EP patients (OR 0.69, 0.62-0.78). Patients of LEP families, with or without interpretation, were more likely to be transferred to the ICU within 24 hours of admission than patients of EP families (OR 1.76, 1.07-2.90; 1.85, 1.08-3.18) suggesting that an aspect of clinical severity may have been missed in the ED.


Professional interpretation is currently underutilized in this ED for patients with LEP, and important differences in outcomes exist between LEP and EP patients. Factors associated with interpreter use will inform ongoing improvement efforts.


health equity; interpreter use; quality of care


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