VA Health Care:

Language Barriers Between Providers and Patients Have Been Reduced

HRD-89-40: Published: Mar 9, 1989. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the Veterans Administration's (VA) efforts to correct English-language proficiency problems among some of its health care providers.

GAO found that after 1977 legislation became effective, VA: (1) developed and periodically updated its policies and procedures to reduce English-language proficiency problems in its facilities; (2) required its foreign-born physicians and health care providers to pass a standardized test within 1 year of employment; and (3) required documentation of its foreign-born physicians' ability to meet language proficiency requirements. GAO also found that: (1) 63 of 99 foreign-born physicians' files at two VA facilities lacked the required documentation because officials believed that the physicians were proficient and met VA requirements; (2) VA plans to develop a patient satisfaction questionnaire to be distributed to all patients at its facilities; and (3) all of the 18 facilities it reviewed had sufficient bilingual staff for non-English-speaking patients. GAO believes that VA needs to: (1) consider testing its health care providers' ability to speak English effectively; and (2) ask specific questions in its proposed patient satisfaction questionnaire to provide it appropriate data on the language proficiency level of its physicians.

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