Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Eric Munz, Lionbridge Technologies

Eric Munz
Eric Munz

Eric Munz, vice president of business process crowdsourcing at Lionbridge Technologies, where he manages and leads the delivery of in-person, telephonic and video crowd-enabled interpretation solutions to meet the unique needs of customers across a broad range of industries, discusses here the need for interpretation services in health systems.

He also touches upon interpretation mandates for hospitals, the struggles large and small health systems face with interpreting to ensure the best patient care; he discusses the benefits of using a secure interpretation solution; and provides advice for implementing such a solution.

What are interpretation mandates for hospitals? How has equal access to language changed recently with ACA?

There are about 10 different places in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that require hospitals to develop and implement a system that provides interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency (LEP),  to have equal access to healthcare. For example, Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focuses on non-discriminatory policies and procedures, including those based on the grounds of language and national origin.

Now, healthcare facilities are facing a renewed struggle to provide such interpretation services because of the influx of LEP patients newly enrolled in insurance plans under the ACA. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 36 percent of newly insured individuals under the ACA in the state of California are LEPs — compared to only 9 percent of LEP patients prior to the ACA enactment. That is a dramatic increase in non-English speaking patients to serve.

Other states facing a jump in patients speaking foreign languages include Texas, Arizona and Florida. Across the nation, healthcare providers must be at the ready to interpret more than 300 languages to remain compliant. Otherwise, they risk incurring monetary penalties.

Why is it often a struggle to deliver interpretation for patients in large and small hospitals alike?

A big city hospital could serve patients representing a dozen different languages or more on any given day. That presents a very practical logistical problem for facilitating so many different conversations in so many different languages. This is why many facilities partner with vendors to provide on-site interpretation, but these interpreters often work on an on-call basis, delaying treatment. They also often charge two-hour minimum rates for their service even if it’s a 30-minute conversation. In a rural hospital, there simply may not be someone with the skillset to speak a particular language within the geographic area.

For these reasons, the biggest challenge for hospital management is determining how to efficiently meet the demand for interpretation services, which are required by law, while remaining cost conscious throughout the process.

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