From 2002 to 2007, areas in Tennessee including Nashville, Murfreesboro and Davidson have seen their foreign born population increase by more than 50%, according to the U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
As the region becomes more diverse, medical professionals are now dealing with a new issue— how to work around language barriers involving non-English speaking patients. Just last year, Vanderbilt Medical University Center’s outpatient clinics treated 56,570 patients with limited English proficiency, including 36,000 Spanish speakers.
“It’s the biggest demographic group for language problems that we have,” says Dr. Charlie McKay in an interview with the Tennessean.
To work around the issue, medical providers have increased the use of interpreters, including telephone-based translators, in-person translators, and use of full time interpreters. With the region seeing roughly 101,932 foreign born individuals assimilating into Tennessee from 2002 to 2007, health professionals have acknowledged the need to minimize barriers to health care, primarily around language and culture.
As for doctors in the area treating patients, they feel better knowing that their patients are able to fully understand their conditions and how to take their medications through use of interpreters. Furthermore, many Spanish speaking residents with limited English proficiency feel more comfortable seeing doctors that speak their language or who have interpreters available.
“In 2000, a handful of clinics had bilingual or multilingual support. Today, it’s more or less expected that clinics will have at least interpretation service,” says Pamela C. Hull, associate director with the Center for Health Research at Tennessee State University.
With more services and advocates working on minimizing language barriers for non-English speaking residents, one can only hope this will be a trend will be picked up among other areas with high immigrant populations.
As Lee Ann Hannah, director of education with Centennial Medical Center, put it:
It’s not about money and dollars; it’s about doing the right thing.
Contributed by Angela Donadic, Policy and Advocacy Fellow