VRI: A Crucial Aspect of Hospital Emergency Preparedness

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

When disaster strikes, communities quickly exhaust resources available for medical response. Natural disasters can knock out power supplies, creating an additional hurdle for hospitals to care for large influxes of patients impacted by storm surge, wind speed, falling trees and other dangerous threats. When emergencies take place, patient numbers and care requirements can challenge or exceed a community’s ability to provide adequate patient care. With a comprehensive emergency management plan in place, hospitals are prepared to better respond to a community’s health care needs.

Successful hospital emergency preparedness plans include three main steps:

  1. Spread awareness: This involves educating the medical team on the likelihood of a mass casualty situation as well as providing them with the tools they need to manage one.
  2. Prepare for a mass influx of patients: This involves improving efficiencies when and where they are needed to care for a much larger patient population than normal with a wider range of medical needs than typically encountered. Key departments anticipating higher demand, e.g. the surgery department, take primary focus.
  3. Analyze plan effectiveness and update where needed. Hospitals identify disparities in current plans and combine efforts with law enforcement and other community resources to overcome them. Local authorities are knowledgeable as to the community population, any foreseeable threats and disaster management when emergencies strike.

When Patients Do Not Speak English

Depending on the tragedy at hand, some patients may have damaged hearing as a result of loud noises that occurred during the incident. Patients who speak English as a second language may lose understanding of English or mix languages to communicate as part of trauma induced memory loss. Others may experience new communication barriers or become mute for a time period. When the demand for interpreters exceeds the supply, hospitals can expand access to language services for patients by connecting them with remote medical interpreters over video or phone.

Brief the Interpreter for Optimal Efficiency

When using an interpreter in an emergency situation, it is important for the interpreter to understand the trauma that patients may have experienced prior to the hospital visit and how this can potentially impact their communication delivery. Post trauma, patients tend to have more difficulty processing information. Cognitive processing often declines in the days following trauma, particularly when challenged with processing new information like after care plans. Medical interpreters are trained on best practices for a wide range of hospital encounters, including the treatment of patients involved in mass emergency situations.

Any change in communication needs resulting from trauma should be communicated to the interpreter in a briefing session prior to the medical encounter. This can help improve efficiency when treating high numbers of patients in need of language assistance. If something in the encounter does not appear to resonate with the patient, interpreters are trained to raise their hand and interject that effective communication is not taking place. The provider and interpreter can then work together to explain to the patient in a way that he or she understands.

When hospitals encounter a higher number of LEP patients than typical, time is of the essence. Video remote interpretation provides immediate access to medically qualified interpreters in a wide variety of languages. Learn more about our interpreters, how quickly they can be accessed and how they can be utilized to better fulfill your emergency preparedness plan.

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