How to Improve Care for Spanish-Speaking Patients

Healthwise Communications Team

A Spanish-speaking patient converses with a doctor


Eddie’s dad had died from skin cancer, so Eddie was cautious about his skin. He worked on the grounds crew for a local golf course, which meant he was out in the sun a lot—and last summer when a spot on his shoulder started to itch and bleed, Eddie decided to see a doctor. Since Eddie spoke very little English, his daughter helped him schedule an appointment at the local community clinic.

Like Eddie, the doctor was concerned the spot could be melanoma, so he performed a biopsy and scheduled a follow-up appointment. Two weeks later, Eddie returned to the clinic for his diagnosis. The clinic’s interpreter wasn’t available that day, so the doctor, in his limited Spanish, tried to give Eddie the news. The spot was called a seborrheic keratosis and Eddie didn’t need to do anything about it. But Eddie heard, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” He was stunned. What was this oddly named spot, and was it dangerous?

After the appointment, Eddie sat in his truck in the parking lot mulling over the questions he wished he had asked. Then, he saw that his doctor had sent him patient education on seborrheic keratosis. Eddie tapped the link that led to his patient portal. Once there, he noticed a setting that read “Site Language/Idioma del Sito,” and sure enough, it changed the entire user interface to Spanish. Eddie easily navigated to the Spanish-language education his doctor had shared. There, he learned that his seborrheic keratosis was harmless. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Spanish Speakers Face Healthcare Barriers

Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken in the United States. The U.S. has the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world (after Mexico)—and by 2050, one in three people in the U.S. will speak Spanish.

Unfortunately, this group also faces healthcare inequities. One June 2022 study found that overall, Hispanic Americans are less likely than other Americans to have health insurance and get preventative care. On top of that, the study found that a major reason 44% of Hispanics in the U.S. have worse health outcomes compared to other U.S. adults is due to communication problems related to language or cultural differences when navigating the healthcare system.

Not only do language and cultural barriers prevent patients from getting care, but they also make it hard for Spanish-speaking caregivers. Recent studies show that for Spanish-speaking parents, language-specific barriers can negatively impact their children’s health. Native-language health information lets parents focus on what’s important: their children.

Lots of people are in Eddie’s shoes. Some doctors and nurses may know some Spanish, but medical conditions come with many nuances. For example, a doctor may be able to ask in English if chest pain is a pressure, a deep pain, or a sharp pain. But if the doctor doesn’t know all those words in Spanish, getting a clear picture of a patient’s symptoms can be a problem. And interpreters aren’t always available to help.

A parent and children review health education in Spanish on a cell phone


The Complete Patient Education Experience in Spanish

What are we doing to meet the Spanish-speaking population’s needs? First, all our health education is available in both English and Spanish. (Some of our most used content is also available in 17 other languages.) And it’s all translated by humans. Human translation ensures accuracy, preserves all the important medical nuance, and is sensitive to cultural norms.

Spanish language education is a start, but making sure Spanish speakers can easily access the education is important too. In Healthwise® Advise for Epic, patients can change not just the health education language to Spanish, but they can change the entire user interface to Spanish as well. This means the patient’s entire education environment—from menus to health education to logout options—changes to Spanish with just the click of a button. Since Epic also offers MyChart in Spanish, patients can now have an entirely immersive Spanish-language patient portal experience.