Patients who speak Spanish primarily or exclusively have a unique set of struggles and barriers when getting medical care, whether as a patient or caregiver. A language barrier can be stressful and burdensome for parents trying to get help for their child. What can be done about this?

A recent study from Academic Pediatrics examined the specific barriers that parents face when attempting to receive care for their child at a medical center. The researchers came to the conclusion that while a number of these obstacles pertained to the difference in language, many of them weren’t language-specific. Many related to the complexities of the American healthcare system, while other barriers were due to lack of resources.

What are some ways that your healthcare center can attempt to make itself more accessible for parents who speak Spanish?

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  1. Add interpreters and bilingual personnel

Per the study, caregivers rely heavily on the use of interpreters when visiting their healthcare provider. And while the use of interpreters is generally appreciated, some caregivers cited an extensive waiting time for the interpreter service to send one. Some also said that there were times when they wished they could have more direct communication with personnel than an interpreter can provide.

Bilingual personnel could not only be more beneficial in helping parents understand treatments for their children, but could also help with the process of checking in and checking out, something parents said was a challenge without the help of someone else who speaks Spanish.

  1. Provide written instructions in Spanish

One other way to potentially help bridge the language barrier is the inclusion of written instructions in Spanish. Parents in the study frequently found this to be helpful. Clarity is key both in navigating the system of the healthcare provider’s office and understanding diagnoses, treatment, and follow-up. That means after-visit summaries in Spanish, though the study notes that attention to these translations is crucial due to the specifics of the information and regional differences based on the country of origin.

  1. Help new patients adjust to the system

If this is a parent’s first time in a new office, there can be many confusing elements they did not anticipate. This study was conducted at an academic medical center, and the large size of the hospital made navigation a challenge that was further compounded by the language barrier. Checking in and checking out can vary from office to office, and the process may be a disorienting experience. Be patient and explain the process thoroughly both in the office and in your correspondence with parents prior to their visit.

  1. Be more understanding of their schedule

Scheduling appointments can be an inconvenience for physicians and parents alike. One of the more prevalent challenges not related to language barriers is difficulty when making appointments and follow-ups that could coordinate with parents’ schedules. Parents spoke of having to miss work or school for these appointments. One parent spoke of trying to get appointments for their children on the same day instead of having to schedule appointments on multiple days in one week.

There are limits to when flexibility is an option in appointments, but where possible try to be understanding of scheduling difficulties.

  1. Provide information about your patient portal

Most caregivers in the study said they were not familiar with healthcare providers’ online patient portals, but an overwhelming majority of those interviewed said they had home access to the internet and a smartphone. When the patient portal was explained to parents, 83% expressed interest in using it. Keeping these caregivers in the loop about a patient portal can be a simple way to keep them informed on the situation.


Flower KB, Wurzelmann S, Tucker C, Rojas C, Díaz-González de Ferris ME, Sylvester F. Spanish-speaking parents’ experiences accessing academic medical center care: barriers, facilitators and technology use. Acad Pediatr. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2020.10.008