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Use of Interpreters by Physicians Treating Limited English Proficient Women with Breast Cancer: Results from the Provider Survey of the Los Angeles Women's Health Study

Objective. Little is known about how cancer physicians communicate with limited English proficient (LEP) patients. We studied physician-reported use and availability of interpreters.

Data Sources. A 2004 survey was fielded among physicians identified by a population-based sample of breast cancer patients. Three hundred and forty-eight physicians completed mailed surveys (response rate: 77 percent) regarding the structure and organization of care.

Study Design and Settings. We used logistic regression to analyze use and availability of interpreters.

Principal Findings. Most physicians reported treating LEP patients. Among physicians using interpreters within the last 12 months, 42 percent reported using trained medical interpreters, 21 percent telephone interpreter services, and 75 percent reported using untrained interpreters to communicate with LEP patients. Only one-third of physicians reported good availability of trained medical interpreters or telephone interpreter services when needed. Compared with HMO physicians, physicians in solo practice and single-specialty medical groups were less likely to report using trained medical interpreters or telephone interpreter services, and they were less likely to report good availability of these services.

Conclusions. There were important practice setting differences predicting use and availability of trained medical interpreters and telephone interpretation services. These findings may have troubling implications for effective physician–patient communication critically needed during cancer treatment.

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