Top Tools for Hospitals to Develop, Implement & Enhance Language Services

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

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, healthcare facilities can improve access to care, safety and satisfaction for LEP patients.

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 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. Patient data, including 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 to help determine patient language needs.

The size and scope of the facility should also be considered, including the number of beds in each hospital, outpatient clinic and inpatient center. To ensure solutions are effective, language access plans must be monitored and re-evaluated on an ongoing basis. Continued training is needed to ensure providers are equipped to quickly provide language services when needed. Any changes in demographics, types of services offered, or other language needs must be taken into account to ensure the effectiveness of language access plans.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Joint Commission and the Health Research and Educational Trust, among other organizations, have created educational guides for hospitals to develop, implement and improve language access solutions for LEP patients. Our top recommendations of tools for hospitals include the Blueprint, the Roadmap for Hospitals and Results from a National Survey.  

The Blueprint

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established the National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards as a guide for hospitals to advance health equity, improve quality, and eliminate health care disparities for patients from various cultural backgrounds. HHS developed the Blueprint as an implementation guide to help hospitals improve and maintain these standards.

A Roadmap for Hospitals

The Joint Commission created the guide, "Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient-and Family-Centered Care: Roadmap for Hospitals", in an effort to help providers address patient needs, fulfill patient-centered communication standards, and comply with related Joint Commission requirements and federal regulations. The Roadmap includes example practices, information on laws and regulations surrounding language access in healthcare, and links to additional educational tools for hospitals.

Results from a National Survey

The Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), American Hospital Association and National Health Law Program conducted a national survey to gather information from U.S. hospitals about the need and use of language services. Their report, titled "Hospital Language Services for Patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP): Results from a National Survey", describes current practices that hospitals are using and common barriers that hospitals face when treating LEP patients. It also includes helpful tools to best provide language services to patients with LEP.

There are several factors to consider when strategizing a comprehensive language access solution, including language needs, facility size, interpretation modes and cost effectiveness. The above guides are designed to help hospitals best identify diverse patient needs, fulfill those needs and raise the level of LEP patient care to meet that of English speaking patients.

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