Imagine traveling to another country on vacation, only to get terribly ill after consuming seafood at dinner. You experience chills, your hands are curling up and you feel faint all over. Getting to the hospital is a challenge, as you do not speak the native language there. When you arrive at the hospital, all of the medical staff is speaking another language and no one can understand you when you try to tell them your symptoms. You have no understanding of your condition, diagnosis or treatment plan. This terrifying scenario is a reality for many limited English proficient (LEP), Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) individuals in the United States today.
Effective communication is a cornerstone of quality healthcare. When providers encounter patients who do not speak English or with limited English proficiency (LEP), a qualified medical interpreter must be used to ensure effective communication is taking place. In recent years, acute care organizations in the U.S. have seen a significant increase in LEP encounters as well as a rise in the number of languages requested. The historic method of staffing onsite interpreters for top languages is no longer sufficient to ensure meaningful access for all patients. To ensure access to language services at all hours of operation for a multitude of language requests, acute care providers are turning to video remote interpretation (VRI), an on-demand service that connects providers to a large pool of qualified interpreters in a wide variety of language pairs.
Immediate Language Access
The ability to connect instantaneously to a qualified interpreter in the language needed makes VRI an essential tool for acute care organizations. Onsite interpreters may not be available when requested depending on the language needed, the pool of onsite interpreters available, the demand for language services at the time of need and the cost of onsite interpretation.
By having VRI on hand, acute care providers can provide LEP, Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) patients with a language, sign language and CDI interpreter with just a few presses of a button on a tablet, computer or other devices over WiFi or 4G.
The easy accessibility and immediacy of VRI make the provision of language services possible at all instances of care, even in times of urgency. By ensuring meaningful access to healthcare information throughout the length of the encounter, the risk of adverse effect due to communication error is greatly reduced. The length of stay is shortened, and patient outcome is improved.
Improved Satisfaction with Care
LEP patients report higher patient satisfaction when an interpreter is used to provide language services versus a family member or untrained bilingual staff member. When acute care organizations adopt a more patient-centric approach to care, patient satisfaction is greatly improved. With LEP patients, this includes the provision of language services.
A study by researchers at Cambridge Hospital examined both patient satisfaction and willingness to return to the emergency department among non-English speaking patients. Of the 2,333 patients surveyed, 15 percent reported a language other than English as their primary language, nearly half of which reported being unsatisfied. In conclusion, the study revealed LEP patients are consistently less satisfied with their care than English speaking patients. The study concluded that satisfaction among LEP patients could be greatly improved with the use of a qualified medical interpreter.
When patients are satisfied with care, they tend to trust and confide more in healthcare staff and their ability to provide credible recommendations regarding the patient’s health and well-being. Once trust in the provider is established, patients naturally disclose more information about their health, which in some cases can be key to a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Patients who are more satisfied with care also tend to engage more with their provider in the development of their health care plans.
Better Care Quality
Once a patient becomes an active participant in the management of their healthcare plans, they are more likely to adhere to and follow them, resulting in better outcome. A systematic review of literature by researchers at the University of California found several studies indicating that the use of a qualified medical interpreter raises the level of LEP patient adherence to follow up plans after discharge from the ED to that of English-speaking patients.
Perhaps the most crucial step to avoiding hospital readmissions is ensuring that patients understand their follow up care plan. With VRI, LEP patients can have immediate, meaningful access to their discharge instructions, resulting in a higher likelihood of patient adherence.
In addition to improved patient adherence, the use of VRI is associated with a reduced number of communication errors. A study was conducted by researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center on errors of medical interpretation and their potential clinical consequences of nearly 60 encounters with LEP patients in the ED of two pediatric hospitals in Massachusetts. The number of communication errors with potential consequence was notably less when a qualified interpreter was used versus an ad hoc or untrained interpreter.
VRI is an essential tool in modern healthcare, as it provides immediate access to language services, improved patient satisfaction, and better patient adherence. Acute care organizations nationwide are adopting a more patient-centric approach to raise the quality of care. At the same time, U.S. hospitals are encountering a higher percentage of patients who do not speak English or with limited English proficiency. With LEP patients now representing a significant portion of the patient population, a more patient-centric approach to care includes the provision of qualified language services. VRI simplifies the process of providing these services, equipping providers with a go-to solution to effectively communicate with patients who speak a language other than English.
About David Etterolf
David Fetterolf is President of Stratus Video, a language services company that is changing the way limited English proficiency patient communicate with their healthcare providers. David brings over 26 years of experience working for healthcare information technology and service companies. Prior to joining Stratus Video, he was president and founder of MDeverywhere, revenue cycle management software tailored to the healthcare industry.