When to Use Each Mode of Interpretation for Optimal Language Access

By David Fetterolf, Stratus Video President

With a combination of onsite, video remote and over-the-phone interpreting services at your fingertips, you can facilitate a comprehensive language access plan and ensure effective communication in any language. The key is to identify the language needs of the limited English proficient (LEP) patient population and then establish when to use each mode for optimal coverage and efficiency.

For the most prevalent languages, many hospitals have a combination of staff and contract interpreters that are available onsite. Onsite interpreters are preferable for difficult conversations surrounding end of life or new diagnoses.

For situations of immediate need or urgent care patients who are LEP, video remote interpretation (VRI) is ideal. The service provides direct access to a qualified medical interpreter over encrypted, HIPAA compliant video. VRI also provides access to American Sign Language (ASL) and Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI), an essential tool to provide language access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) patients. In situations where an onsite interpreter is needed but not yet available, providers can initiate communication with Deaf and HoH patients via VRI and then transition over to an onsite interpreter once he or she arrives. This way, patients have meaningful access to their healthcare information at all points of care.

For short and simple conversations, appointment settings or to access interpreters in languages of lesser diffusion, providers can utilize over-the-phone interpreting (OPI).  OPI supports a wide range of languages, ensuring compliance with federal regulations for all LEP encounters, even the most infrequent requests.

Onsite Interpreters are ideal when:

  • There is a high number of requests for a certain language, for example, Spanish.
  • There are multiple people in the room who need language access services.
  • The conversation involves a difficult, life changing diagnosis.
  • There is a great deal of trauma or a high level of emotional intensity.
  • There is a visual impairment or cognitive limitation.

VRI interpreters are ideal when:

  • The demand for language services exceeds the supply of onsite interpreters. Languages of high volume may not have an onsite interpreter available for all patients at all times of need. Local interpreters in languages of lesser diffusion can be difficult to locate and contract. In these situations, VRI is the ideal solution.
  • Walk-in or new patients who have no patient information on record, including the patient’s preferred language can access VRI on demand.
  • There is an urgent or immediate need for language access.
  • The patient is Deaf, Hard of Hearing (HoH) or utilizes visual cues to communicate.
  • Times of transition: VRI is mobile and works on WiFi or 4G, enabling the provision of language services in ambulances or home care settings.

View the decision tree below for quick reference on when to use each mode.

Download the Language Access Decision Tree for future reference.

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