Providing care for all patients despite language barriers

Doctor of Physical Therapy students in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of physical therapy provide important service to the community through the Physical Therapy Equal Access Clinic, or PT EAC. Students, faculty and volunteer clinicians offer pro bono physical therapy services to patients who are uninsured or have limited coverage.

Now, through a partnership with the UF Medical Equal Access Clinic, the PT EAC is adding a major addition to its services: certified language interpretation for virtual telehealth delivery as well as in-person visits.  

Without interpreters, many patients who are Hispanic or Latinx have a higher difficulty of expressing their concerns or avoid seeking treatment due to the lack of communication, said Evelin Garcia, a second-year UF Doctor of Physical Therapy student who is the assistant interpreter liaison for the PT EAC. Providing these services helps improve health care quality and outcomes, allows for higher patient satisfaction and enables the patients to better understand and manage their condition.

Not only is language interpretation important for evaluation and treatment sessions, but the logistics of setting up appointments is complicated for those whose first language is not English. As the assistant interpreter liaison, Garcia works alongside the lead interpreter liaison, second-year DPT student Valentina Martinez, to contact Spanish-speaking patients, confirm their appointments and ensure that any questions they may have about PT EAC services are answered.

Evelin Garcia headshot photo

Evelin Garcia

calls Belle Glade, Florida, home and is born to Mexican parents. She is the first in her family to attend a doctoral level graduate program. “Coming from a low socioeconomic area, I have experienced and witnessed limited health care options for patients. I chose UF PT because I appreciate all of its community outreach programs offered for patients who cannot attain ‘quality’ health care. Through UF PT, I hope to reach out and help those populations overcome constant adversities and improve their quality of life.”

Valentina Martinez headshot photo

Valentina Martinez

is a first-generation college student and earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Florida. She was born in Colombia and moved to South Florida when she was 9 years old. “Physical therapy is a beautiful profession that allows me to make a life-long positive impact on my patients, unfortunately it is not well known nor accessed within the Hispanic/Latinx community. I chose PT for the same reason I became the interpreter liaison for PT EAC – to provide culturally competent and accessible physical therapy services to underserved minorities and decrease health disparities among this population.”

The goal of offering interpreter services at the clinic is to provide culturally competent care, said Martinez, who is also a UF Health authorized interpreter. As an authorized interpreter, Martinez can communicate directly and efficiently with the patient, thus simplifying the delivery of physical therapy services.

In addition to assisting with the implementation of the translation services offered at the PT EAC, Martinez helps ensure that assessment forms, outreach fliers and resources are accurately translated. The appropriate communication in all forms is essential for exercise adherence, management of comorbidities and preventive services.

Not only has the availability of certified interpreters and the support provided by the PT EAC board members facilitated care for Spanish-speaking patients, the students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program are also learning the important skill of communicating with patients through an interpreter.

This is a part of the coursework in their first year in the program, but having real-world experience with the choice of words, pace of communication and ability to reframe or rephrase verbal communication is a critical component of being prepared for working with all patients in clinical settings.

“Working within the EAC network and being able to collaborate with students from other health professions has taught me the importance of team-based health care, which simplifies interventions and improves patient outcomes, no matter who the patient is,” Martinez said. “These are skills I will continue to develop and implement in my future practice to provide the best possible patient-centered care.”