South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday July 22, 2014
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January 2008 - Volume 4 - Issue 7

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Measuring the True Cost of Miscommunication

With quality language access services, hospitals can translate a civil right into a financial safeguard

Each time the doors of a hospital open, a rapidly diversifying world rushes in, bringing with it new complications – medical, social, financial and legal. Often, this new world manages to find its way first to the emergency room, turning an already overwhelmed front-line triage center into a melting pot of once unrelated languages and cultures.

Communicating with this changing population is becoming increasingly costly. Failing to communicate properly, however, is proving even more expensive. The fact is, when it comes to meeting the multiple objectives of caring for patients, protecting the bottom line, and complying with the law, the great challenge presented by our new multilingual society can be met with one clear solution: a formal language access program.

The Case for Action

Few would deny that the ethnic and linguistic make up of our society is changing quickly. The most recent U.S. Census reports that more than 60 million people in our nation speak a language other than English at home, and of those, 25.2 million are classified as limited English proficiency (LEP). In Florida, 23 percent of residents speak a language other than English. Between 2001 and 2004 the state received 33 percent of the country’s immigrants, more than any other state.

As health care administrators are well aware, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has long required those who receive federal funding to provide the same level of access to health care services and programs for limited English speaking patients as they do for those who speak English. Given the growing LEP population and the widening inconsistency in patient communication, state and federal requirements that govern how hospitals communicate with a diverse patient population are certain to become more stringent and strictly enforced in years to come.

Already federal and state legislation has been proposed to extend language access requirements to all health care organizations and to define more carefully the nature and content of these programs. According to the Florida Patient's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, a patient in a health care facility who does not speak English has the right to be provided an interpreter when receiving medical services if the facility has a person readily available who can interpret on behalf of the patient. Access to qualified interpreters exists through a variety of models and programs, including via telephone and video, so it is up to the medical provider to ensure compliance.

The Case for Quality

While the first step toward improving communication is to develop a formal interpreting program, the next step is to ensure the quality of the services offered. Consider the following key factors when building an interpreting services program:

- Certification: Medical interpreting requires a complex set of skills and a specific knowledge base. Verify the quality of services and abilities of on-staff interpreters or an outside interpreting company by checking to see that they are certified by a third party source, and obtain information to verify that the source is credible.

- Availability: Immediate availability of interpreters is critical for hospitals. When contracting with an outside company to provide over the phone services, make sure they offer scheduled interpreters – not just independent contractors who may not be available at all times, and who may not be able to ensure confidentiality.

- Insurance Coverage Protection – When contracting with a provider who offers over-the-phone and video interpreting services, make sure the company offers Disclosure of Confidential Information, bodily injury and property damage and True Worldwide insurance coverage to protect your investment.

As the hospital doors open to a changing world, the medical staff within must be able to quickly interpret and understand the implications of this new world, while administrators must account for the inevitable financial and regulatory impact. Time and again instances of miscommunication in the medical arena have resulted in increased legal and operational costs. Developing a structured, dynamic language access program that relies on quality medical interpreters is the best way to prepare for the future, ensure compliance with federal and state regulations, and maximize cost efficiency and patient safety and satisfaction in the delivery of quality care.

Jeanette Anders is healthcare director of Language Line Services. For more information, call 1-877-886-3885 or visit www.languageline.com.
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