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Obtaining Informed Consent from LEP Patients

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

Informed consent, or permission granted in the knowledge of possible consequences, is legally required in order for healthcare professionals to treat patients when there is risk involved with the treatment. This disclosure of risk and agreement by the patient is a vital part of most medical procedures.

Studies have shown that there is a language disparity when it comes to patient-reported informed consent. In a clinical study, informed consent was considered adequate when the patient reported a general understanding of the reason for a procedure, the risks associated and had all of their questions answered. In the study, English-speaking patients generally reported adequate informed consent while their limited English proficiency counterparts did not. (source).

Fortunately, access to medically qualified interpreters is associated with improvements in patient-reported informed consent, although it does not completely resolve the disparity. Another study showed that even in a hospital with an onsite interpretation team, English-speaking patients were more likely to have a signed consent form on record than limited English proficiency patients receiving the same procedure (source).

The failure to obtain informed consent from limited English proficiency patients is not only ethically questionable but can actually put a healthcare facility into legal jeopardy. So what can you do to curb those risks and consistently obtain informed consent from every single patient? Below is a list of steps any healthcare facility can take to help ensure informed consent is obtained from limited English proficiency patients:

  • Use medically qualified interpreters for every single interaction with an LEP patient, either over the phone, over video, or in person.
  • Have informed consent documentation translated into the most common languages in your area.
  • Require your providers to document informed consent for every patient.
  • Educate your staff members on the importance of informed consent, and on cultural competency surrounding the treatment of LEP patients.
  • Periodically spot-check for informed consent. Either by interviewing LEP patients or by pulling medical records to check for signed informed consent paperwork.
  • Take care to consult with your legal team before implementing any new processes.


Stratus Video is dedicated to eliminating the disparity in care between English-speaking and limited English proficiency patients by providing around the clock access to medically qualified interpreters in hundreds of world languages. To learn more about Stratus Video services, fill out the form at the bottom of this page and a Stratus Video team member will reach out to you.

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