VRI Ensures Hospital Compliance with Language Access Requirements

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

Video remote interpretation (VRI) greatly widens the reach of language services, providing patients who do not speak English or with limited English proficiency (LEP) meaningful access to healthcare information.

Meaningful access to healthcare information is a vital aspect of care. In order for patients to engage with providers in their care plans, they must be able to understand one another in a meaningful way. Language barriers and cultural differences can result in misunderstandings that negatively impact care. Patient adherence to follow up plans is dependent upon the patient’s understanding of discharge instructions and other healthcare information.

Studies show a higher number of communication errors occur resulting in adverse effects for LEP patients when compared to English speaking patients. LEP patients have also been shown to attend fewer visits, fill less prescriptions and adhere less to follow up plans than English speaking patients.

Fortunately, LEP, Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) patients can have meaningful access to healthcare information with the use of a qualified medical interpreter. In fact, LEP patients with access to a qualified interpreter at both check-in and discharge have been shown to experience a shorter length of stay and have a smaller likelihood of returning to the hospital within 30 days.

The word “qualified” refers to the interpreter’s ability to convey complete and total meaning from the source language to the target language and vice versa. This includes complex medical terminology and any cultural nuance that comes into play. Qualified interpreters are dedicated to accuracy and refrain from impartiality of any kind. Qualified interpreters act as cultural brokers to clarify cultural differences impacting the understanding of health programs and/or medical terminology. Part of the professional interpreter code of ethics includes a commitment to continuing education and ongoing training.

Despite the many benefits of qualified interpreters, a great number of hospitals continue to utilize bilingual family members or untrained medical staff to facilitate communication with LEP patients. Studies show when untrained interpreters are used, a higher number of communication errors occurs, and patients are less satisfied with care. When family members are used, they tend to alter or omit information that may be sensitive to the patient. When medical staff is used, the risk is still high. Although bilingual, many individuals have only experienced healthcare in the United States and are familiar with medical terminology in English but not in the patient’s preferred language. This makes the bilingual staff member culturally incompetent and therefore unqualified to interpret a medical encounter.

Emphasis on the word “qualified” was recently put in place by Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The rule “applies to any health program or activity, any part of which receives funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), such as hospitals that accept Medicare or doctors who receive Medicaid payments”.

Section 1557 defines LEPs as individuals whose primary language for communication is not English and  requires hospitals to provide LEP patients language assistance services.

The rule also requires covered entities to:

  • Post information for LEP patients about their right to receive language services.

  • Post availability of language services in the top 15 languages other than English of the state where the hospital is located.

  • Use a qualified interpreter versus an untrained or ad-hoc interpreter.

The implementation of video remote interpretation (VRI) makes hospital compliance easy. Providers can reach qualified medical interpreters in a wide variety of language pairs over secure, HIPAA compliant video. With VRI, both American Sign Language (ASL) and Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) are immediately available for Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients – an ideal tool to facilitate communication when there is a shortage of ASL interpreters available onsite. VRI can also facilitate communication for less common languages, as calls route automatically to a large pool of over-the-phone interpreters when not available over video.

By having VRI available for patients, hospitals can more easily provide language services for non-English speaking patients and comply with regulations surrounding language access in healthcare.

Watch an educational webinar hosted by trilingual interpreter and Spanish Operations Manager Patricia Alonzo to learn more about what defines an interpreter as qualified and how to ensure compliance at your facility.

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