Language barrier may be higher indicator of COVID-19 mortality than race: Brigham and Women's Hospital

Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital realized in the initial days of the pandemic that Spanish-speaking Latino COVID-19 patients were faring worse than those who spoke English, reports NPR. 

The hospital has discovered health inequities deeper than just race, said Karthik Sivashanker, MD, medical director of quality, safety and equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"There was no mortality difference when we just looked at Hispanic patients with COVID-19," Dr. Sivashanker said. "But there was a mortality difference when we looked at Hispanic patients who are non-English speaking."

Researchers adjusted data for comorbidities and found that primarily Spanish=speaking COVID-19 patients had a 35 percent greater risk of death from COVID-19 compared to other patients.

During initial COVID-19 surges, interpretive services at Brigham were overwhelmed, reports NPR. The hospital has since hired more interpreters and bought more iPads, but Dr. Sivashanker acknowledges that that isn't enough. 

"It's never going to be as simple as 'Well we just didn't give them enough iPads or translators and that was the only problem,'" Dr. Sivashanker said. Though hospitals can't directly fix the housing, education and income inequities that feed health disparities, Brigham is working to improve the experience patients have in the hospital. 

Since the first COVID-19 surge, Brigham researchers haven't conducted a new analysis of COVID-19 deaths by race.


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