Healthcare facilities have a responsibility to their patients to provide the best possible care. One way to improve patient satisfaction that may not come to mind at first is to offer quality interpreting services for limited English proficiency patients.

After all, how can a patient be satisfied if they cannot fully understand their experience at a healthcare facility?

Access to a skilled interpreter can greatly improve the patient’s healthcare experience; and sometimes is the only link between the patient and the healthcare system. It brings an improved quality of care and leads to better treatment outcomes. In fact, it is mandatory to provide interpreting services for patients with limited English proficiency.

LEP Improving patient satisfaction

Why do healthcare facilities need to use interpreting services?

Healthcare facilities need to use interpreting services according to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was created to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. It mandated that interpreting services be provided for patients with limited English proficiency at any program or activity that received federal financial assistance. The Department of Health and Human Services through the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) included the following four additional mandates.

  • Firstly, that language assistance for patients with limited English proficiency must be offered at no cost to the patient. This means that usually, the healthcare facility is responsible for covering the cost of the interpreter.
  • Secondly, patients must be notified of the availability of language assistance services in their preferred language; both verbally and in writing.
  • Third, easily understood print materials and signage such as posters should be provided in service areas, in languages that are commonly used.
  • Finally, the competence of interpreters should be ensured; and the use of untrained persons or minors as interpreters should be avoided. It is sometimes common for limited English proficiency patients to bring a family member with them to interpret; but a trained interpreter is always preferable.

Why do healthcare facilities need to use professional interpreters?

When the healthcare facility has to worry about paying for interpreters, why must they need to use professional interpreters? Professional interpreters are always preferable to the usual practice of using ad-hoc interpreters (such as family, friends, or untrained staff). Untrained interpreters are more likely to make errors, violate confidentiality and increase the risk of poor outcomes. There are various problems with using an ad-hoc interpreter; such as the fact that they may provide unsolicited advice or have a personal agenda. Their presence may interfere with the scope of inquiry if any embarrassment occurs especially if the patient is worried about the privacy of their personal health information. In fact, having an untrained interpreter is linked to a higher risk of longer hospital stays or readmission. This is why using a professional interpreter who is trained in both medical terminology and the ethics of interpreting is always the best choice.

How does using a professional interpreter improve the patient experience?

The use of professional interpreters increases Patient Satisfaction in many ways. The interpreter functions as a link between patients and the healthcare system. Using a professional interpreter improves patient’s comprehension, which results in an improved medication adherence and treatment outcomes. A professional interpreter enables healthcare professionals to provide better care and reduce adverse events, which limits malpractice risks. They not only provide language facilitation, but also act as a cultural liaison and clarify nuances for both the patient and healthcare professional.

Professional interpreters improve the quality of care for limited English proficiency patients to equal that of the care of patients who have no language barriers. This is why a professional interpreter is the best choice for improving patient satisfaction.

Trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand them can add to a healthcare professional’s stress, and professional interpreters are there to help. However, it may be confusing or intimidating to work with a professional interpreter for the first time. It may benefit a healthcare professional to become acquainted with the interpreting process and learn a few things to keep in mind.

Firstly, know that the interpreter is there to facilitate communication across the language barrier only. They will communicate everything to the patient with limited English proficiency and help with comprehension; but add nothing to the conversation themselves. Next, understand that the patient should be the one who is being addressed and the one who is answering questions. When the healthcare professional and the patient understand the role of the professional interpreter, communication will improve; and it will save time in the end.

Global Arena offers both interpreting services and medical interpreting training.

If you would like more information on Global Arena’s medical interpretation programs, please feel free to contact us.

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