SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., October 17, 2017 -- Doximity, the leading social network for physicians and advanced practice clinicians, today released a first-of-its-kind research study, entitled "Language Barriers in U.S. Health Care", that analyzed the languages – other than English – U.S. physicians report speaking nationally, and across the largest 50 metropolitan areas in the country. By comparing these findings against U.S. Census data, the report found a significant “language gap” between those languages spoken by physicians and their patients.
Physicians who speak second languages, both native- and foreign-born, play a key role in caring for patients who are not proficient in English. Nearly half (44.7 percent) of all physicians who speak a non-English language graduated from a medical school located outside of the United States. Many of these foreign graduates are immigrants to the U.S., and the language skills they bring are important in clinical settings given the diverse languages spoken by the U.S. public.
No previous study has determined which second languages are most commonly spoken by U.S. physicians. This report, drawn from a physician sample size of more than 60,000 respondents nationally, details which languages are most commonly spoken by U.S. physicians, how these languages compare with those spoken by patient populations, and the dynamics across each in the top 50 U.S. metro areas.
Top 10 non-English languages spoken by multilingual physicians nationally
- Spanish (36.2%)
- Hindi (13.8%)
- French (8.8%)
- Persian/Farsi (7.6%)
- Chinese (5.2%)
- Arabic (4.1%)
- German (3.7%)
- Russian (3.0%)
- Italian (2.7%)
- Hebrew (1.9%)
“The most important conversations we have as physicians are with our patients,” said Nate Gross, MD, co-founder of Doximity. “A growing body of research has shown patients achieve better health outcomes when they can communicate with their caregivers in the same language. Understanding imbalances between languages can help address communication challenges across our health care system.”
Nationally, there are significant gaps between adoption rates of popular languages. While Spanish is far and away the most common, non-English language spoken by both patients and physicians, the two groups share only six of the top 10 most common languages with each other. Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Swahili and Sub-Saharan African are included among the top 10 languages for patients, while physicians more commonly speak Persian/Farsi, German, Italian, and Hebrew.
The study also ranked each language to understand how physician and patient populations compare. Patients who speak the following languages, which proportionally fewer physicians speak, will likely have a more difficult time finding a doctor who speaks their language.
Top 10 patient languages with the least overlap with U.S. doctors
- Swahili and Sub-Saharan African
- Hamitic and Near East Arabic
- Burmese and Southeast Asian
Almost all top 50 metro areas have weak matches when comparing the languages that physicians and patients speak, but patients with limited English proficiency in the following metros are most likely to have challenges finding physicians who speak their language.
Top 10 metro areas with a significant “language gap”
- Washington, D.C.
- Louisville, Ky.
- Pittsburgh, Pa.
- Nashville, Tenn.
- Jacksonville, Fla.
“Previous research has not determined which non-English languages are most commonly spoken by physicians, or how those languages compare to patient populations,” said Christopher Whaley, PhD, lead author and adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “Understanding the scope of this problem is the first step to creating solutions for people with limited English proficiency.”
The Doximity data set represents the most comprehensive information available, and is the first to compare the languages physicians speak in each of the top 50 metros with the languages that patients speak in those same areas. It also expands beyond previous research that has focused specifically within the Spanish-speaking population to assess more than 30 common languages spoken in the United States.
The physician language data comes from self-reported responses in the Doximity social network. The most common, non-English languages spoken by providers in each metropolitan statistical area (MSA) was identified from the Doximity data. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) was used to measure the languages spoken by patients and weighted to a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population. The ACS data was used to identify the most common, non-English languages spoken in each metropolitan statistical area.