Cancer care access for non-English speakers is 'alarming' challenge, researchers say

Accessing cancer care as a non-English speaking patient has become an "alarming" challenge, according to researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Through a study, published Sept. 7 in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, researchers randomly identified 144 hospitals across 12 states and had six professionals investigate how well the hospitals could respond to a simulated, scripted patient call inquiring about cancer care in either Spanish, Mandarin or English.

Out of 1,296 calls that were made, only 52.9 percent were adequately given next steps. By language, 93.5 percent of English-speaker simulation calls were provided with adequate next steps in accessing cancer care, while only 37.7 percent of Spanish-speaker calls and 27.5 percent of Mandarin-speaker calls were given the same. 

"Our study found significant language-based disparities in patients’ access to cancer care well before they are seen by a physician," Debbie Chen, MD, lead researcher on the study from the University of Michigan said in the release. "If patients with cancer cannot access information on where to obtain the appropriate cancer care, what other critical information and services are they not able to access in our healthcare system?"

Overall, they found that 40 percent of the calls ultimately "ended prior to the simulated patient caller being connected with a language-concordant staff or provided with language-concordant information."

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