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A Look at the Health Disparities Among LEP Children

A pediatrician checking the heartbeat of a patient.

Providing quality care to pediatric patients is ever-important, but limited-English proficient (LEP) families can face major challenges when seeking care for their children.

With LEP populations on the rise, the profound need to ensure the youngest family members get the care they need is growing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018, the number of English language learning students in the U.S. reached a new high of five million students. Many of these children come from LEP homes and are unable to receive the best medical care due to communication barriers.

Health Disparities LEP Children Face

Much like adults, children within these families often face many of the same disparities when it comes to healthcare. Unfortunately, children can be more vulnerable when it comes to adverse events, which means inadequate care for an LEP child can mean even greater risks to their well-being. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, children in LEP homes are more likely to be on the receiving end of major medical errors compared to children who come from English-proficient homes.

Not Receiving Care

Research has shown that children in LEP homes are more likely to lack a primary care provider. These children are also more likely to be uninsured, often simply due to misunderstandings about what types of insurance are available.

LEP parents who don't feel comfortable trying to communicate with a doctor because of language barriers are less likely to seek proper care, even when that care is desperately needed. In fact, a wide-scale data analysis found the odds that a child would not be brought in for care to be "significantly greater" in LEP homes.

Having Poor Health Status

Due to the lack of insurance, inadequate language support, and even a lack of parental understanding, LEP children are three times as likely to have a poor health status compared to other children.

Some children miss out on even the core components of well-child care, such as annual exams to monitor growth and development rates or immunizations. Even more concerning, LEP children with special healthcare needs have been found to be more likely to go without the vital care they need.

Parent Perspectives of Care Provided

Not only do children often not get the same level of care when they come from an LEP home, but the parents of these children are also more likely to feel dissatisfied with the care their child receives.

In a comparative survey of 52 LEP families and 109 English-proficient families spending time in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) with their child, LEP parents were shown to have significant concerns about the care received. These parents were less likely to report:

  • That they could rely on the care nurses for updates about medical information
  • Confidence in time spent with the pediatric patient
  • Understanding of care or materials discussed during nursing rounds

The survey also found that only 53% of doctors and 41% of nurses used an interpreter in these healthcare settings regularly.

Enhancing LEP Pediatric Care Outcomes and Parental Perspectives in Clinical Settings

With the knowledge that care provision for LEP children can be lacking, both in reality and as a matter of parental perspective, care providers must examine their operational methods and cultural competence. Decision-makers must look at whether their language services are proficient enough to cater to these unique care scenarios.

Ideally, a language solution should:

Effectively communicating with a child that has limited-English communication skills can bring about unique challenges. For one, some practitioners need to communicate with the actual patient (the child), but also the parents. Some care providers strictly use language services to communicate with parents, who then relay information to their child. However, it can be beneficial for the patient to also be a part of the conversation, especially with older children.

If you do intend to use language services specifically for communicating with the child, get familiar with considerations for interpreting with children. For example, children can have shorter attention spans, a more limited vocabulary, and possibly discomfort with conversing with adults, even through translation.

Final Thoughts on Providing Care for LEP Children

Even though disparities exist for children that come from LEP families, much of the problem lies in communication barriers. Implementing a well-designed language support plan in a clinical setting could easily enhance care outcomes for children that come from a more at-risk population.

Interested in a language support management option to handle your entire language landscape? Reach out to find out more about GLOBO's complete language solution to address every patient's needs, no matter their age ( or what language they speak).

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