Study finds doctors often overestimate how well they communicate in English as a second langauge

A study appearing in Health Services Research shows physicians who speak English as a second language, an increasing phenomenon in the U.S. and parts of Kentucky, often overrate how well they are communicating with patients.

The finding is the result of a language scale adopted by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which rates language proficiency in five levels: poor, fair, good, very good and excellent.
After the new scale was introduced in 2009, out of four of physicians who participated changed their rating. Of the 258 participants, 31 who had considered themselves “fluent” downgraded to “good” or “fair.” Just 11 percent deemed their proficiency “excellent.” “Seventeen percent used ‘very good’ and 38 percent said they were ‘fair,'” reports Glenda Fauntleroy of research-reporting service Newswise. “Being ‘fair’ was defined as ‘can get the gist of most everyday conversations but has difficulty communicating about health care concepts.'”
“This is a very tricky area as this demonstrates how many providers overestimate their proficiency in another language,” said Joseph Betancourt, director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “This can lead to miscommunication and even medical errors.” (Read more)
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