Improve the Way Hospitals Communicate with Non-English Speaking Patients

Guest post by David Fetterolf, president, Stratus Video Interpreting.

David Fetterolf
David Fetterolf

By 2050, the world population will grow to more than nine billion people, according to the U.S. Census. As our world grows more diverse, so do the languages associated with different populations. Today, there are at least 6,909 distinct, known languages, and as globalization continues to grow, the number of non-native English speaking people living in the United States will grow in parallel. For the healthcare industry, this means hospitals and health systems must think about how this plays into patient engagement and care. Communication is crucial to managing patient relationships, caring for patients and working with their families to follow treatment plans correctly.

U.S. law requires hospitals to provide medically trained interpreters for patients with limited-English proficiency. This requirement aims to bridge the patients’ needs with how physicians plan to care for these needs.

How do healthcare organizations acquire interpreters?

When it comes to providing interpretive services, healthcare organizations have several options. Some hospitals that have significant limited English proficiency (LEP) populations keep interpreters on staff. Others rely on relationships with interpretation agencies to bring in interpreters as needed. Many facilities use remote, on-demand interpreters either over-the-phone or on video. More often than not a hospital will rely on a combination of these resources.

Perhaps the most important component of any language access network in healthcare is agility. Take the incoming Syrian refugee population – suddenly Arabic interpreters are in demand in areas they never worked in before. Healthcare facilities have to remain nimble to meet their patients’ needs. Interpretation needs can change over night, and hospitals need to be ready to respond.

This is where the on-demand sector really shines. By maintaining a contract with an on-demand agency, healthcare facilities can instantly access interpreters in hundreds of languages. One month they may see a lot of French speaking patients; the next month the primary language could be Arabic. Imagine investing in a department with on-staff interpreters just to discover a few years later that the languages you staffed for are not being used. Your French interpreters become unused resources while your department pays agency premiums to bring in Arabic interpreters as the demand rises. The agility of an on-demand system affords the ability to serve the patient population as it changes while protecting language access budgets.

Additionally, recent technological advancements have made remote on-demand systems more desirable than ever. Video remote interpretation (VRI) combines the visual benefits of an on-site interpreter with the immediacy and availability of over-the-phone interpreters. With VRI, hospitals save time and money while still offering their non-English speaking patients a qualified interpreter they can see and connect with. Patients have a better experience than they would with a phone interpreter while the hospital more easily meets their language access requirements. This results in higher levels of patient satisfaction by reducing patient readmissions and length of stay, while simultaneously reducing provider liability and hospital costs. Now limited English proficiency patient can receive the same level of care as their English-speaking counterparts.

Technology is enabling communication in new and innovative ways every day – and the healthcare industry is at the forefront of these advancements. Video remote interpretation exemplifies the use of innovative technology in healthcare by providing better patient care quickly and effectively. You can video call your friends and family, why not your interpreter?

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