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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language-Concordant Primary Care Physicians for a Diverse Population: The View from California.

  • Author(s): Garcia, Maria E
  • Bindman, Andrew B
  • Coffman, Janet
  • et al.

Purpose: The population with limited English proficiency (LEP) in California is growing. We sought to determine whether enough primary care physicians (PCPs) have the language skills to meet patient needs. Methods: The authors determined the number of PCPs who self-report proficiency in the five most common non-English languages spoken in California (Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) using Medical Board of California data from 2013 to 2015. The authors estimated LEP populations during 2011-2015 using Census data. They calculated PCP supply (the ratio of PCPs/100,000 LEP individuals) compared to a federal standard to judge adequacy. They performed a sensitivity analysis adjusting the percentage of LEP patients in a bilingual physicians' practice from 100% to the percentage of LEP individuals in California who spoke that language. Results: Of 19,310 PCPs in California, 15,933 (83%) provided information about languages they speak. There were 5,203 (33%) Spanish-, 486 (3%) Cantonese-, 986 (6%) Mandarin-, 956 (6%) Tagalog-, and 671 (4%) Vietnamese-speaking PCPs. PCP supply, compared to a federal standard, was adequate if we assumed that bilingual PCPs only care for LEP patients. However, if one assumes the number of LEP patients in a PCP's practice reflects the percentage in the general population, there is a large PCP undersupply for all languages. Conclusion: Estimates of access to language-concordant PCPs for LEP individuals are sensitive to assumptions about the percentage of LEP patients in a PCP's panel. Ensuring language-concordant access will require deliberate effort to match LEP patients with bilingual PCPs.

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