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Improving health outcomes for linguistically diverse patients

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Cardiovascular health for all in Australia requires language-sensitive health systems

Every day, most Australian clinicians treat patients whose first language is not English. Nearly four million Australians speak 350 non-English languages, and 17% rate their spoken English as poor.1 To date, there has been little large scale Australian research into the health impacts of not speaking the country’s dominant language.

Studies on the relationship between linguistic diversity and health outcomes are methodologically challenging. Many have been criticised for their failure to adjust for socio-economic status, education, or English language proficiency, or for using country of birth as a proxy for language spoken at home.2 The prospective cohort study by Juergens and his colleagues, published in this issue of the MJA,3 adds to research on cardiovascular disease and language by analysing mortality 6 months after discharge from hospital. The authors found that mortality was higher in patients whose first language was not English.

Two broad sets of explanations are offered when interpreting differences in health outcomes associated with language: explanations related to socio-epidemiological determinants in the affected population, and explanations related to failures of health service responsiveness.

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