Everyone realizes that healthcare organizations are required by law to provide a measure of language access to their patients:
- According to Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964, an institution that accepts federal funding is prohibited from “discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, religion, sex, and national origin,” and the definition of “national origin” includes the language they speak.
- Executive Order 13166, signed into law on August 11, 2000, requires federal agencies to work with recipients of federal funding to provide meaningful access to their LEP applicants and beneficiaries.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, Titles II and III require state and local government organizations and public accommodations (including hospitals) to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.
Everyone also realizes the very real penalties for non-compliance, especially since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010:
- In an effort to reduce the cost of care, the ACA includes a readmission reduction program based on the knowledge that most readmissions situations spring from faulty communication and/or poor care during the initial treatment and discharge.
- According to a recent article by Dr. Richard Kimball Jr. on The Street, “the penalty has deducted from 1% (in 2013) up to 3% (in 2015) of every Medicare payment for a hospital identified to have "excessive readmissions" for heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and possibly more kinds of hospitalizations in the future.”
- For large hospitals seeing tens of thousands of Medicare patients annually, these penalties can mean millions of dollars lost.
So, it’s a given that healthcare organizations have an obligation to comply with the law and that offering some form of adequate language access is part of the cost of doing business if you’re going to stay compliant. But is “staying compliant” the very best reason why quality language access should be provided for LEP patients at your facility?
No. There are several better reasons to consider.
Language access improves staff productivity
Understandably, a language barrier wastes time. From the moment a patient arrives in the Emergency Room or calls to make an appointment, poor communication is going to slow down every interaction your staff has with that individual.
While ad hoc interpreters – such as bilingual family members or staff – may provide an alternative to pantomime, their inexperience with medical terminology and interpreting in general often keep the process moving at a snail’s pace during a time when speed is often of the essence.
On the other hand, when quality professional telephone, video, or onsite interpretation is instantly available, the language barrier essentially disappears. The LEP patient can be seen just as quickly as any other patient, receive the quality care they need, and fully communicate with and understand their doctors.
Faster interactions mean improved staff productivity, which both boosts the quality of care for all patients, but improves the bottom line for the facility as well.
Language access improves patient safety and quality outcomes
While being able to communicate quickly has its own benefits, perhaps even more important is the fact that quality professional interpreters allow your staff to communicate accurately and clearly, without the danger of accidental interpreting errors leading to potentially dangerous or even deadly mistakes being made.
During the LEP patient’s visit or admission, every interaction with a doctor or nurse that discusses pain, responses to medicine, or any other clinical detail that helps a provider determine what course of treatment to take and what is or is not helping the patient can be clarified and handled confidently with the aid of a professional interpreter. Again, when relying on ad hoc interpreters, mistakes can often be attributed to their inexperience with the art of interpreting and with complex medical terminology or the nuances of expressing concepts like pain level.
So, in a very real way, having professional interpreters available can be a matter of life and death.
Language access improves the image and reputation of the facility
While some prefer to ignore this fact, healthcare is a highly competitive business and it needs to be run like one, including appropriate public relations and marketing efforts.
While the LEP population accounts for as much as 25% of the average patient intake nationwide, facilities known to have poor language access options available tend to lose out on most of that business. On the other hand, facilities with a reputation for excellent language access stand to gain business as LEP individuals enjoy quality service and pass their experiences on to friends, family, and others in their communities.
Ultimately, language access lowers operating expenses
Logically, as staff productivity improves, communication errors decrease, and the facility’s reputation for providing high quality services to LEP patients grows, the operating expenses go down (faster service, lower recidivism, less ACA penalties) and income goes up (more LEP patients choosing your facility over others with lower quality language access.)
So, beyond compliance, why should you invest in high-quality language access services?
From a business perspective, it simply makes sense to do so. And, from a human standpoint, it’s the right thing to do.