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Language Barriers and Interpretation Methods in Physical Therapy: Best Practices Review and Nevada Survey
AuthorBowman, Michelle N.
Community Health SciencesWorld Languages and Literatures
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Language barriers in health care have been found to have negative impacts on quality of care provided to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). The purpose of this study was fourfold: to review research on interpretation methods in physical therapy, to appraise the legal context, to search for policy guidelines, and to assess the existence of and response to language barriers in physical therapy clinics in Washoe County, Nevada. The author analyzed the scientific and government literature and then conducted an Internet survey of practitioners. Professional interpreting was found to be the best practice based on research in medical settings, but it was not clear whether or not professional interpreting was the best practice within the physical therapy setting as well. The survey of local clinics, completed by 22 physical therapists, revealed that language barriers between LEP patients and providers did exist to some extent and were perceived by therapists to be detrimental to treatment outcomes. The survey also found that ad hoc (untrained) interpreters were the most commonly used method of interpretation. Barriers to providing professional interpreters reported by clinics included the clinic or provider not having advanced knowledge of the patient’s LEP status, cost and time constraints, and negative attitudes toward the therapist’s responsibility to provide language services. The results of this study suggest that more research is needed to accurately assess the role of language barriers and to establish the best practices for interpretation methods in physical therapy settings. Once best practices are established, policy guidance should be distributed to physical therapists and clinics in order to increase knowledge and awareness of the issue of language barriers and strategies to overcome them.