JOURNAL ARTICLE

Language disparities in patients transported by emergency medical services

N R Weiss, S J Weiss, R Tate, S Oglesbee, A A Ernst
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2015, 33 (12): 1737-41
26341804

BACKGROUND: The population of the United States continues to diversify with an increasing percentage of residents with limited English proficiency (LEP). A major concern facing emergency medical services (EMS) providers is increasing scene and transport times. We hypothesized that there would be a significant difference in EMS scene and transport times when comparing LEP and English-speaking (ES) patients and there would be a difference in care, both in and out of hospital.

METHODS: This is a retrospective case-control study with patient data extracted from hospital records and EMS run reports from a 911 emergency ambulance service. Patients were only included if they were transported to our level I trauma center. Inclusion in the LEP group was based on a field in EMS run reports that claimed language barrier as the sole reason for no patient signature. All LEP patients from July 1, 2012, to November 1, 2012, were reviewed. A random comparison sampling of ES patients from the same period was evaluated. The patients' demographic data, pain scores, interventions, medications, transport times, and scene times were analyzed. Patients were followed up from emergency department (ED) management through to disposition. Percentages were compared using 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Bivariate analysis used the Student t test and χ(2) test. A multivariable logistic regression model was created to determine predictive variables. A 5% random sampling was compared by 2 investigators for interrater agreement.

RESULTS: Data were collected from a total of 101 ES and 100 LEP patients. Interrater agreement was 94% between extractors. Limited English proficiency patients were significantly older (56 ± 20 years old) than ES patients (41 ± 21 years old) and more likely to be female (odds ratio [OR], 2; 95% CI, 1.1-3.3). Limited English proficiency patients had a greater mean EMS transport time of 2.2 minutes (95% CI, 0.04-4.0). The odds of LEP patients receiving electrocardiograms were greater both in the ambulance (OR, 3.7; 95% CI, 1.7-8.1) and in the ED (OR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.1-3.3) compared to ES patients. There were no differences in additional interventions, medications administered, or pain scores obtained between the 2 groups. In a multivariable logistic regression model corrected for age, type of call, smoking history, and sex, there was no difference in transport times in LEP patients.

CONCLUSION: Compared to ES patients, LEP patients are older and more likely to be female. When corrected for differences in age, type of call, smoking history, and sex, we found no difference in scene or transport time for LEP patients. Results of this study indicate that EMS providers should be prepared for a different patient encounter when responding to 911 calls involving LEP patients rather than language variations alone.

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