telehealth foreign language LanguageLine

Amid an international health emergency, the White House has expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that enables beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.

What should providers do if they want to use telehealth but the patient speaks a foreign language? Below, we will address a simple solution to using telemedicine with limited-English-proficient patients. First, let’s take a closer look at this expansion of telehealth coverage.

What was the rule prior to this announcement?

Before this announcement, clinicians could only be paid by Medicare for telehealth services in certain circumstances. For example, the beneficiary had to live in a rural area where travel made care less likely. In addition, the beneficiaries were generally unlikely to be allowed to receive telemedicine services in their home.

How will things be different after this expansion?

Doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries. Beneficiaries will be able to receive telehealth services to any healthcare facility including a physician’s office, hospital, nursing home, or rural health clinic, as well as their homes.

What services can individuals receive?

Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive various services through telehealth including common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. This will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries, who are at a higher risk for coronavirus (COVID-19), are able to visit with their doctor from their home, without having to go to a doctor’s office or hospital which puts themselves or others at risk.

The Centers for Medicaid Services answer more frequently asked questions related to this announcement here.

What if a caregiver wants to conduct a telehealth appointment with a patient who does not speak English?

Telehealth does not exclude non-English speakers. Solutions are available that can provide effective communication to those who speak foreign languages. The appropriate solution depends on if the telemedicine appointment is being conducted via phone or video.

What if the appointment is conducted by phone?

Professional medical interpreters are available on-demand. In LanguageLine’s case, we have a team of more than 11,000 medical interpreters who are available 24 hours a day in more than 240 languages. Our business remains fully operational during this crisis. These interpreters can be reached in 30 seconds or less from a conventional phone, mobile device, or computer.

What if the appointment is conducted via a video-conferencing platform?

Caregivers are conducting telehealth appointments via video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Skype, as well as platforms designed specifically for telemedicine.

Interpreters can be involved in calls like these, as well, so long as the platform can place an outbound call to an 800 number. (Most have this capability.) If so, both the physician and the patient will be able to hear the LanguageLine interpreter. Again, these interpreters are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 240 languages.

Accessing audio interpretation in this manner is typically uncomplicated, though some support may be needed depending on the platform. LanguageLine is pleased to provide this support as necessary.

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LanguageLine Can Help

LanguageLine has partnered with its clients to overcome language and cultural barriers during good times and bad for nearly four decades. We are eager to work with you to provide language services during this critical period. This includes telehealth solutions.

Please contact us so that we can learn more about the challenges your organization may be facing.