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Measuring the ROI of Language Services in Health Care

Posted by Matthew Riley on December 1, 2017

Measuring the ROI of Language Services in Health Care

A Somali man rushes into the emergency room with his young son, who has fallen from the balcony of their second-story apartment. Although the boy has no visible injuries, his father is concerned he may have a concussion and internal bleeding. He tries frantically to communicate with emergency room personnel using gestures and the few English phrases he has learned since moving to the United States six months before.

The triage nurse quickly places a video call to a Somali interpreter, who can relay the man’s concerns to her. Within minutes, the boy undergoes a CAT scan and receives appropriate treatment and monitoring. He is able to return home with his father later that evening.

Without video remote interpreting, this scenario could have played out much differently. While other industries demand to see a return on investment in hard dollars, the ROI of language services in health care is often measured by the absence of something.

Here are seven ways healthcare professionals measure the impact of their investment in language services.

1. Fewer Scheduling Errors

Patients with limited English proficiency are more likely to miss appointments or show up at the wrong time due to breakdowns in communication with office staff. Since physicians’ schedules are set well in advance, these scheduling errors can add up to hours of wasted time and lost revenue. Phone interpreting services help to bridge language gaps, reducing scheduling errors.

2. Shorter Patient Wait Times

Language barriers can slow down the registration process, increasing patient wait times and reducing patient satisfaction. Research from healthcare review site Vitals found that average wait times for physicians across the country ranged from 16 to 23 minutes, and wait times longer than 20 minutes have a direct impact on patient satisfaction.

Using video remote interpreting to communicate with patients who have limited English proficiency can reduce patient wait times and increase patient flow, contributing to higher revenue and improved patient satisfaction.

3. Fewer Medical Errors

When lives are on the line and every second counts, miscommunication can contribute to misdiagnoses or even life-threatening medical errors.

The use of a professional interpreter greatly reduces this risk. A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found non-professional interpreters (such as family or friends) had a 22 percent error rate compared to professionals, who had a 2 percent error rate. Of the 1,900 errors noted in the study, 18 percent of them could have had serious consequences to a patient’s health.

4. Improved Outcomes

Hospital discharge instructions can be confusing enough for a person who speaks the same language as their physician, and language barriers make it even more difficult to follow directions. When patients understand how to properly care for themselves upon their release, they tend to have better health outcomes.

Translating patient education materials, discharge instructions, and other vital documents that are critical to a patient’s care enables patients to take responsibility for their recovery.

5. Reduced Readmission Rates

Preventable re-admissions have become a huge frustration for hospitals around the country. A number of factors put patients at a higher risk for re-admission, but language barriers certainly play a role. When patients can follow physicians’ orders, they are significantly less likely to be re-admitted for complications.

6. Reduced Bad Debt

Patients who understand their financial obligations and insurance coverage are more likely to pay their bills in a timely manner, reducing bad debt.

7. Higher Patient Satisfaction

Patients with limited English proficiency report lower satisfaction rates compared to English-speaking patients, according to a report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Maximizing Your Hospital’s Returns

A hospital setting has many touch points with the potential for miscommunications, from the reception desk and emergency room to the billing office. Hospital staff need to be ready for anything and for anyone who may walk through their doors next. Phone interpreting may be sufficient for addressing scheduling questions, but other situations demand face-to-face interaction. Having an on-site interpreter available at a moment’s notice isn’t always practical or possible, especially when you see patients who speak less common languages.

Working with a language services provider that offers a full range of solutions, from phone interpreting to video remote interpreting, allows you to keep costs in check while maximizing the benefits to your patients and your bottom line.

To learn more about what criteria to consider when choosing one, check out this helpful guide.

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