Identifying Language Needs of the Patient Population

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

The need for improved language access plans in healthcare is widespread. As language diversity continues to expand, so does the challenge to provide adequate interpreting and translation services. Inadequate language access services in healthcare are associated with poorer patient outcomes.

Extensive research conducted by the National Institutes of Health shows that language barriers can cause faulty communication and poor decision making on the part of both patients and providers. This disparity in care can be overcome with a comprehensive language access plan designed to improve patient care, satisfaction and safety.

There are several factors to consider when strategizing a comprehensive language access solution, including language needs, facility size, interpretation modes and cost effectiveness.

To ensure a language access plan is effective, the language needs of the community must first be identified. This can be accomplished by looking at the top foreign languages, the percentage of limited English proficient (LEP) people in the area, the number of encounters the facility has had with LEP patients, the number of languages encountered and any recent increase in interpreter requests.

Refugee resettlement communities should consider any projected increase in languages of lesser diffusion. Internal data, including patient race, ethnicity and language preference should be collected at intake, admission or registration. U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey data can also provide valuable insight for determining patient language needs.

The size and scope of the facility should also be taken into account, including the number of beds in each hospital, outpatient clinic and/or inpatient center.

To ensure that your solution is effective, monitor and reassess your language access plan on an ongoing basis. Any changes in demographics, types of services offered, or other language needs can influence the effectiveness of the language access plan.

With growing concerns about language disparities in healthcare and increasingly diverse populations on the rise, effective language access services are in high demand. By accurately identifying patient population needs, facilities can improve access to care, safety and satisfaction for LEP patients.

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