Quality in practice: integrating routine collection of patient language data into hospital practice

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Quality problem

Timely identification of patients' language needs can facilitate the provision of language-appropriate services and contribute to quality of care, clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Initial assessment

At the University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland, timely organization of interpreter services was hindered by the lack of systematic patient language data collection.

Choice of solution

We explored the feasibility and acceptability of a procedure for collecting patient language data at the first point of contact, prior to its hospital-wide implementation.


During a one-week period, receptionists and triage nurses in eight clinical services tested a new procedure for collecting patient language data. Patients were asked to identify their primary language and other languages they would be comfortable speaking with their doctor. Staff noted patients' answers on a paper form and provided informal feedback on their experience with the procedure.


Registration staff encountered few difficulties collecting patient language data and thought that the two questions could easily be incorporated into existing administrative routines. Following the pilot test, two language fields with scroll-down language menus were added to the electronic patient file, and the subsequent filling-in of these fields has been rapid and hospital wide.

Lessons learned

Our experience suggests that routine collection of patient language data at first point of contact is both feasible and acceptable and that involving staff in a pilot project may facilitate hospital-wide implementation. Future efforts should focus on exploring the sensitivity and specificity of the proposed questions, as well as the impact of data collection on interpreter use.

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