Lost in Translation: Language Barriers Trouble Patients
New study finds limited English proficiency leads to poor asthma control
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (September 4, 2012) — Being proficient in the English language can mean the difference between being healthy and unhealthy, according to a new study. This can be alarming for the more than 11 million people living in the United States with limited to no understanding of the language.
The study, published in the September issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), found asthmatic patients aged 60-years and older with limited English proficiency had poor self-management and control of their condition. These patients also had decreased quality of life, compared to those that understand English very well.
“Effective asthma treatment requires appropriate self-management,” said Juan Wisnivesky, MD, DrPH lead study author. “Patients must be able to identify symptoms and administer both as-need and controller medications properly. Language barriers can compromise patient-provider communication and obstruct asthma education efforts about these important topics, making it difficult for both patients and allergists to ensure optimal outcomes.”
Researchers found aging Hispanics with limited English proficiency have the poorest asthma control, and were less likely to use inhaled medications, such as corticosteroids, which can prevent symptoms. When asthma is not properly controlled, sufferers are at risk for worsening symptoms and asthma-related death.
“Asthma is a serious disease that is often misdiagnosed and undertreated, especially within the aging population,” said allergist Stanley Fineman, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “It is important that all patients receive the same level of care and learn how to effectively manage their condition so they can lead active, healthy lives.”
The ACAAI offers the following tips for patients that are looking to overcome language barriers:
- Have a bilingual family member or friend join appointments
- Ask for asthma literature in Spanish that can be taken home
- Ask the allergist’s office if there is a bilingual staff member
- Attend a local patient support group
Allergists are experts in diagnosing and treating asthma. Patients who do not see an allergist may risk having test results misinterpreted which can lead to over-diagnosis and inappropriate management that can be harmful, and in some cases, fatal. More information about asthma and how to manage the condition can be found at www.AllergyandAsthmaRelief.org, which also includes literature written in Spanish.
The ACAAI is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill., that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,700 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research. For more information, visit www.AllergyandAsthmaRelief.org.