Emergency Department Care for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: a Retrospective Cohort Study

Lucy Schulson, Victor Novack, Peter B. Smulowitz, Tenzin Dechen, Bruce E. Landon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Limited English proficiency (LEP) patients may be particularly vulnerable in the high acuity and fast-paced setting of the emergency department (ED). Objective: To compare the care processes of LEP patients in the ED. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: ED in a large tertiary care academic medical center. Patients: Adult LEP and English Proficient (EP) patients during their index presentation to the ED from September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2015. LEP patients were identified as those who selected a preferred language other than English when registering for care. Main Measures: Rates of diagnostic studies, admission, and return visits for those originally discharged from the ED. Key Results: We studied 57,435 visits of which 5241 (9.1%) were for patients with LEP. In adjusted analyses, LEP patients were more likely to receive an X-ray/ultrasound (OR 1.11, CI 1.03–1.19) and be admitted to the hospital (OR 1.09, CI 1.01–1.19). There was no difference in 72-h return visits (OR 0.98, CI 0.73–1.33). LEP patients presenting with complaints related to the cardiovascular system were more likely to receive a stress test (OR 1.51, CI 1.22–1.86), and those with gastrointestinal diagnoses were more likely to have an X-ray/ultrasound (OR 1.31, CI 1.02–1.68). In stratified analyses, Spanish speakers were less likely to be admitted (OR 0.8, CI 0.70–0.91), but those preferring “other” languages, which were all languages with < 500 patients, had a statistically significant higher adjusted rate of admission (OR 1.35, CI 1.17–1.57). Conclusions: ED patients with LEP experienced both increased rates of diagnostic testing and of hospital admission. Research is needed to examine why these differences occurred and if they represent inefficiencies in care.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • emergency room
  • health disparities
  • limited English proficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Emergency Department Care for Patients with Limited English Proficiency: a Retrospective Cohort Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this