Language Barrier Hurts Diabetics, Study Finds

FRIDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) — Hispanic diabetes patients who can’t discuss their condition with a doctor in their own language have poorer health, even when interpreter services are available, a new study has found.

Researchers analyzed data from diabetes patients in California and found that 28 percent of Hispanic patients with limited English-language skills seen by non-Spanish-speaking doctors had poor blood sugar control, compared with 16 percent who had Spanish-speaking doctors.

There was no difference in blood sugar control between English-speaking Hispanics and non-English-speaking Hispanics if they had access to a doctor who spoke their language, the investigators found.

Only 10 percent of white patients had poor blood sugar control, said the researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

“Diabetes is a complex disease that requires a high level of patient understanding and engagement for successful management. These patients may need direct communication with Spanish-speaking physicians to manage their disease appropriately,” lead author Dr. Alicia Fernandez, a UCSF professor of medicine, said in a UCSF/Kaiser news release.

The United States is becoming linguistically more diverse and the number of people with diabetes is rising, making it increasingly important to understand how language barriers can affect patient care, the researchers said.

The study findings were released online in advance of publication in the January 2011 print issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diabetes control.