Professional interpreters can help in the care of hospitalized children from migrant and refugee families

Added March 18, 2022

Citation: Boylen S, Cherian S, Gill FJ, et al.  Impact of professional interpreters on outcomes for hospitalized children from migrant and refugee families with limited English proficiency: a systematic review. JBI Evidence Synthesis. 2020;18(7):1360–88.

Language: Abstract and full text available in EN.

Free to view: No.

Funding sources: School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

What is this? Safe health care relies on a clear exchange of information between providers, patients, family members and carers. Professional interpreters might facilitate this for, for example, migrant and refugee families with limited English proficiency in countries where the main language is English. Information on the effectiveness of this may help policy makers and practitioners planning health care in this context.

In this systematic review, the authors searched for studies of the impact of professional interpreters on outcomes for hospitalized children (0 to 18 years) from migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker families with limited English proficiency who were in countries where English is the main language. They restricted their searches to articles published in English and did the search up to December 2018. They included 3 randomized trials (4 articles) and 2 observational studies (2 articles), all from the USA (total: 1813 families, including 1753 Spanish-speaking families with limited English proficiency and 60 English-proficient families).

What was found: Migrant and refugee families with limited English proficiency were more satisfied with aspects of care when a professional interpreter service or bilingual physician was available compared to an ad hoc interpreter (e.g. family member or friend) or no interpreter [very low and low certainty evidence].

Professional in-person interpreters led to greater satisfaction with aspects of care and shortened total emergency department throughput time compared with professional telephone interpreter services [very low and low certainty].

Video interpretation improved understanding of the diagnosis compared with telephone interpretation [low certainty].

Parents assigned a professional interpreter had similar concordance with the child’s discharge diagnosis compared with and those assigned a bilingual physician [low certainty].

The effects of professional interpreters on adherence to treatment, medication errors or adverse effects are uncertain due to a lack of evidence.

Implications: The authors of the review recommended the use of professional interpreters for migrant and refugee families with limited English proficiency and that ad hoc interpreters should not be used. They stated that the mode of professional interpreter delivery should be based on accessibility, availability, language requirements, clinical context and patient preference; and that research is needed in more diverse pediatric settings, in other countries and for additional outcomes (e.g. unplanned readmission, non-attendance at appointments, treatment adherence and adverse events).

Other considerations: The authors of the review discuss their findings in the context of language.


This summary was prepared by Catherine Haynes, edited by and finalized by Mike Clarke.

Disclaimer: This summary has been written by staff and volunteers of Evidence Aid in order to make the content of the original document accessible to decision makers who are searching for the available evidence on the health of refugees and asylum seekers but may not have the time, initially, to read the original report in full. This summary is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians, other health workers, professional associations, guideline developers, or national governments and international agencies. If readers of this summary think that the evidence that is presented within it is relevant to their decision-making they should refer to the content and details of the original article, and the advice and guidelines offered by other sources of expertise, before making decisions. Evidence Aid cannot be held responsible for any decisions made about the health of refugees and asylum seekers on the basis of this summary alone. The text can be shared and re-used without charge, citing Evidence Aid as the source and noting the date on which you took the text.