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In-hospital patient harm across linguistic groups: a retrospective cohort study of home care recipients

Reaume M, Batista R, Talarico R, Guerin E, Rhodes E, Carson S, Prud’homme D, Tanuseputro P. J Patient Saf. 2020; May 19 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Objective — Research examining the impact of language barriers on patient safety is limited. We conducted a population-based study to determine whether patients whose primary language is not English are more likely to experience harm when admitted to hospitals in Ontario, Canada.

Methods — We used linked administrative health records to establish a retrospective cohort of home care recipients (from 2010 to 2015) who were subsequently admitted to hospital. Patient language (obtained from home care assessments) was coded as English, French, or other. Harmful events were identified using the Hospital Harm Indicator developed by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Results — We included 190,724 patients (156,186 Anglophones, 5,110 Francophones, and 29,428 Allophones). There was no significant difference in the unadjusted risk of harm for Francophones compared with Anglophones (relative risk [RR], 0.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.87–1.02). However, Allophones were more likely to experience harm when compared with Anglophones (RR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.10–1.18). The risk of harm was even greater for Allophones with low English proficiency (RR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.13–1.24). After adjusting for potential confounders, Anglophones and Allophones were equally likely to experience harm of any type, but Allophones more likely to experience harm from infections and procedures.

Conclusions — Patients whose primary language was not English or French were more likely to experience harm after admission to hospital, especially if they had low English proficiency. For these patients, the risk of harm from infections and procedures persisted in the adjusted analysis, but the overall risk of harm did not.