New Study: Removing Patient-Physician Language Barriers Is Associated With Greater Primary Care Utilization, Fewer ER Visits

Date Posted: 08/10/2021

‘Language concordance between patients and physicians may lead to lower cost and more appropriate use of healthcare resources;’ SCAN uses bilingual outreach to reduce health outcomes disparities

LONG BEACH, Calif., Aug. 5, 2021—How important is it for doctors to speak the same language as their patients?

A new study shows that when doctors speak the same language as their patients, patients are more likely to visit their primary care physician (PCP) for preventive and follow-up care, likely resulting in fewer specialist visits, emergency room trips and hospitalizations.

The study looked at non-English-speaking members enrolled in SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans. The results were published today in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“The results of this study indicate that that there is an urgent need to provide linguistically and culturally competent care for non-English speaking communities in order to improve their overall population health,” said Dr. Sachin Jain, president and CEO of SCAN Group and one of the study’s authors. “What’s more, the results also suggest that matching patients to a language concordant PCP can lead to significant cost savings, given the increased expense associated with specialist, inpatient, and ED settings,” said Dr. Jain.

Dr. Jain noted that SCAN has already implemented several programs that accord with the study’s findings. For example, by using Spanish-speaking Care Navigators and Spanish-language “teletalks,” SCAN successfully increased flu vaccination rates among its Spanish-speaking members by up to 10% when compared to previous flu seasons.

Likewise, SCAN’s bilingual pharmacists regularly contact members who don’t adhere to their prescription regimens in order to help them better understand their medications and how to take them. Printed materials in Spanish and Korean help speakers of those languages better understand the importance of taking their medications as prescribed.

“Decreasing healthcare inequities that negatively impact the health and well-being of non-English speaking older adults in the United States is a major focus for SCAN,” said Dr. Sachin Jain. “These are actually fairly simple ways for us to achieve our goals, and they can be emulated quite easily by other healthcare organizations in order to improve population health and reduce health outcome disparities.”

The Journal of General Internal Medicine study was conducted by researchers from SCAN as well as Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine. It looked at 34,600 non-English speaking SCAN members between January 1, 2019, and December 31, 2019 and compared primary care, specialist, inpatient, and emergency department (ED) utilization between non-English-speaking patients with and without a language-concordant PCP. “Patient-physician language concordance is associated with greater primary care utilization and lower specialist, inpatient, and ED utilization,” the authors concluded.

To read the full study visit

SCAN Health Plan

SCAN Health Plan is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving more than 220,000 members in California. Since its founding in 1977, SCAN has been a mission-driven organization dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. Independence at Home, a SCAN community service, provides vitally needed services and support to seniors and their caregivers regardless of plan membership. SCAN also offers education programs, community funding, volunteer opportunities and other community services throughout our California service area. To learn more, visit or follow us on Twitter @scanhealthplan.

Media Contact:

Seffrah Orlando

Back to top