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UC Berkeley CHOIR receives California Department of Health Care Services grant to examine Medi-Cal health equity measures

Research will focus on medical interpreter services for beneficiaries with limited English proficiency

The Center for Healthcare Organization and Innovation Research (CHOIR) at UC Berkeley School of Public Health has been awarded a two-year $430,000 grant by the California Department of Healthcare Services (DHCS). The grant will allow CHOIR researchers to use a series of surveys and interviews to study the effectiveness of the Medical Interpreter Pilot Program (MIPP) on access to healthcare among  Medi-Cal recipients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

The project is led by Hector Rodriquez,  professor of Health Policy and Management, with Associate Adjunct Professor Timothy Brown as a co-investigator.

MIPP is a service led by the DHCS to provide professional and culturally competent interpreters to LEP Medi-Cal recipients. The program seeks to reduce healthcare disparities among non-English speaking beneficiaries by providing translation services through in-person and telemedicine appointments. Historically, there has been limited research on the value of professional interpreters and their ability to improve healthcare accessibility and use. This is in part due to their low employment and high associated costs across healthcare industries.

Researchers will evaluate whether healthcare disparities have been reduced and quality of care has improved as a result of MIPP. Data collection of LEP beneficiaries and health clinic personnel will consist of patient surveys and interviews from participating DHCS Medical Interpreter Pilot Program clinics in Los Angeles, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin counties.

“Language barriers between patients and clinicians can lead to miscommunication, thereby negatively impacting patient care experiences and the technical quality of care received by patients,” Rodriguez said via email. “Limited English language proficiency is associated with other factors that contribute to low health literacy such as being uninsured, low income, less educated, and being born out of the U.S. In California, an estimated 17 million people speak English ‘less than very well.’ It is therefore a public health priority to provide professional language interpretation services to address disparities that LEP patients experience.”

According to Rodriguez, state law mandates that federally funded healthcare organizations provide language interpretation services to those who need it. “However, in practice, patients are often left to navigate complex systems and advocate for these services [themselves],” said Rodriguez. Numerous clinics often fail to both inform and match LEP patients with medical interpretation services due to short-staffed medical centers.

CHOIR will evaluate the success of MIPP and medical interpreter services by determining if the use of informal communicative styles (i.e., interpretation through family members, friends, etc.) declines among LEP patients. Moreover, they expect their findings to influence future interpreter programs led by the DHCS.