Language Access in Healthcare: Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes

April 11, 2022 |
Jason Martin
 | Chief Products Officer, Provider Experience

As a kid, it was lots of fun to play telephone. You’d whisper a secret to the person next to you, then they’d pass it down the line. By the time it got to the last person in your row, the message was far different from the original.

But as adults, there’s no joy in receiving partial messages. That’s especially true for the 26 million Americans who identify as Limited-English Proficient (LEP). When they don’t have access to a certified medical interpreter at the point of care or afterward, they may get limited information about their health problems, potential treatments, and follow-up plans. That creates less-than-optimal health outcomes, not to mention plenty of frustration and mistrust with their providers and healthcare organizations.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that all LEP patients can access a medical interpreter. But doing so the right way inside your healthcare organization means more than just checking a box and saying it’s true. On a recent Becker’s Hospital Review podcast, I had the opportunity to talk about the most common language access concerns many organizations face today. Let’s review them and discuss ways you can avoid them:

Mistake #1: Not knowing your patients’ true language access needs.

Spanish is generally regarded as the most commonly spoken non-English language inside U.S. healthcare organizations. But is that true within the communities your hospital or health system serves? You’ll need to know the answer so you can make sure your capacity of certified interpreters aligns properly with your patient’s needs.

Doing some research about your community’s needs can reveal hidden gems. You might find, for example, that a small portion of your community is avoiding care because they don’t have a clear pathway to receiving care from a doctor in their particular language.

Mistake #2: Not using certified medical interpreters.

This may seem obvious, but the fact is, being an effective healthcare interpreter requires a particularly refined skill set. For one, healthcare and its terminology can be complicated, no matter the language spoken. For another, each language includes dozens of specific dialects based on region or country. That’s why using a certified medical interpreter is so important.

I’ve seen instances where providers ask patients’ family members to translate due to the lack of an available interpreter. But that family member won’t always know the medical terminology the provider is using. I’ve also seen providers, unable to find an interpreter and pressed for time, try to use Spanish they learned in school two decades ago. That not only leads to interpretation gaffes, but also creates a great deal of risk exposure for your providers that they shouldn’t take on for themselves.

Mistake #3: Using the wrong language access technology.

Most of the time, language access is delivered through some sort of telephonic device that’s rolled into the exam room on a cart. Some are more modern, using an iPad that can be leveraged to access an interpretation vendor. But rarely are these solutions connected to a healthcare organization’s EHR. That makes it nearly impossible to track and improve language-access-related metrics that can be used to enhance care outcomes. It also opens the door for inaccurate documentation risks.

Mistake #4: Using complicated workflows that frustrate providers.

Providers already face huge documentation burdens these days. They want to spend more face-to-face time with patients and less time on paperwork. So, when they need to access a medical interpreter, the workflow must be fluid and natural. If your providers are spending minutes chasing down carts—or if no process map exists for how they can access an interpreter—you’re costing them time and increasing the likelihood of provider burnout.

Mistake #5: Not having a backup plan.

If your current process involves using a language access vendor, what do you do when that vendor doesn’t have a certified interpreter that can speak an LEP patient’s language of choice? Without a backup plan in place, you won’t have a way to deliver appropriate care.

How to Correct These 5 Common Language Access Mistakes

Language Access Workflow Software from DeliverHealth gives healthcare organizations a mobile solution that improves care for LEP patients, enhances compliance, and boosts provider satisfaction.

Because it uses eSOne and the powerful DeliverHealth platform—the same mobile solution already preferred by hundreds of organizations and thousands of providers for clinical documentation—it makes interpretation workflows simple for providers. They can use their iPhone to select the patient’s name from their list, request and get an interpreter in less than 20 seconds, tap a button to record the encounter, and, when done, upload the recording into your organization’s preferred EHR.

In addition, our Language Access Workflow Software gives organizations access to certified interpreters in 250 languages, letting you fill in whatever language gaps you might have in your current processes.

If you want to learn more about the current state of language access, listen to the complete podcast. And if you want to start a conversation with DeliverHealth about how you can make language access simpler today in your organization, let’s talk.