Translation of Vital Documents Required for Top Languages

Have you ever received written literature in a language that’s not your own and had trouble understanding it? Imagine not being able to read something vital to your well-being, such as a consent form at a hospital. In an effort to ensure that patients have meaningful access to all facets of healthcare, the Office for Civil Rights requires hospitals to ensure that written materials routinely provided in English are also provided in regularly encountered languages other than English. What exactly does that mean for hospitals? Vital documents, like informed consent forms and discharge instructions, must be translated to patients' top preferred languages other than English.

Q: Which documents must be translated ?

A: Vital documents

Vital documents are either required by law or contain critical information for obtaining federal services or benefits.

Vital documents include:

  • Applications
  • Notices of rights (including notice of the availability of language access services)
  • Informed consent documents
  • Complaint forms
  • Notices of eligibility criteria for services
  • Intake forms with clinical consequences
  • Discharge instructions
  • Written tests that do not assess English language competency
  • Any letters or notices requiring a response

Non-vital documents are not necessary for obtaining federal benefits and services.

Q: Which languages are required?

A: Languages that are of a significant number or percentage of the population

The Office of Civil Rights defines this as 1000 people or 5% of the population served. Requirements do vary from state to state. For instance, in New York State, the law requires translated documentation for LEP populations of one percent or more.

Additional Tips for Providers

Some documents do not need to be translated from beginning to end, as they may contain information that is considered non-vital and can be omitted.

Some documents can be sight translated, meaning that an interpreter reads the source document and verbally interprets the content to the patient or provider depending on the source language.

Translation of vital documents is required and hospitals must provide it in order to comply with government regulations. Facilities that invest in document translation and ensure qualified medical interpreters are available to serve their Deaf and LEP patients yield better patient experience and outcome. Learn more about the importance of the translation of vital documents and federal requirements surrounding language access in healthcare here.

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