Lost in translation: impact of language barriers on children's healthcare

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Purpose of review

As the cultural and linguistic diversity of the United States grows, a greater number of patients with limited English proficiency will enter the healthcare system. Best practices for the care of these individuals include identification of their language assistance needs and prompt provision of interpreter services. This review will summarize the legal basis for providing language access in the healthcare setting, discuss the impact of interpretation services on clinical care, and explore the effects of language barriers on health outcomes.

Recent findings

There has been greater awareness of language as an important and independent determinant in the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in healthcare. Studies have shown that there is suboptimal identification of patients who require linguistic assistance and, as such, there are missed opportunities to bridge language gaps with many of our patients. The lack of interpretation, or use of informal, untrained interpreters, has significant effects on patient safety, quality of care, and patient satisfaction.


Though federal and regulatory guidelines mandate meaningful access to language services, such processes are still a work in progress in many healthcare settings. Further research and quality improvement initiatives are needed to provide clinicians the knowledge and skills needed to effectively communicate with their limited English proficient patients.

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