2nd June 2017, Volume 130 Number 1456

Ben Gray, Eric J Hardt

Whitehead defined health outcome inequities as differences which are unnecessary and avoidable…unfair and unjust.1 Language-based disparities are among the easiest to resolve, as solutions are already available. Pressure to increase…

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This paper compares the provision of interpreters in health care settings in New Zealand and the US. The US has a much stronger right to an interpreter being provided than New Zealand has. It is hard to know how big a problem there is in New Zealand because the census question does not count how many people have limited English proficiency and thus might need an interpreter. Interpreter use in both the US and New Zealand is still not provided in anywhere near all the circumstances when it is needed.


Cultural competency in medicine is not possible unless language differences are addressed effectively. Many disparities that appear to be based on cultural, socioeconomic, demographic and other differences can be reduced or eliminated with the use of qualified medical interpretation and translation in multilingual situations. The development of this precious resource varies from country to country around the world as most developed countries face increasingly diverse groups of immigrants and refugees as well as inclusion of more indigenous groups of patients. The US has been one of the leaders in this area since the 1980s. Countries like New Zealand are in different stages of development and on different pathways. Increased international collaboration may facilitate evolution of cost-effective inclusion of professional medical interpreters as part of multidisciplinary health care teams.

Author Information

Ben Gray, Senior Lecturer, Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington; Eric J Hardt, Geriatrics Section, Boston Medical Center, Associate Professor of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, USA.


Dr Ben Gray, Senior Lecturer, Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice, Te Tari Hauora Tūmatanui me te Mātauranga Rata Whānau, University of Otago, 23a Mein Street, PO Box 7343, Wellington.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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