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Advance Health Equity with Multilingual Phone Trees

Person dialing the phone

For decades, automated phone tree systems have been routing callers. These systems are specifically designed to make handling incoming calls as efficient as possible, but they don't always best serve limited-English proficient (LEP) patients.

Adopting multilingual phone trees into your medical practice could be one of the most important steps to ensure equitable communication for all callers. Take a closer look at multilingual phone trees and how they help with LEP follow-up medical care.

What Is a Multilingual Phone Tree?

A multilingual phone tree functions just as a standard phone tree with one major caveat: when an LEP patient calls for information, the first person they speak to is an interpreter or automated voice in their own language. Upon placing a call to a care provider, the patient is presented with a language menu so they can choose their preferred language. From here, the call is usually routed to a language services provider, where an interpreter starts the conversation with the patient and brings the provider on the line. 

Multilingual phone trees are not a new idea. The Office of Minority Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a patient-centered guide to implementing language access in healthcare in 2005. The guide recommended using multilingual phone trees and voicemail to ensure patients were aware of language access services. 

Problems With Follow-up Care for LEP Patients

Multiple research efforts have shown that language barriers contribute to significant disparities in terms of patient safety for LEP patients. Additionally, problems with communication are most often the underlying cause of the event. LEP patients face a higher risk of: 

A lot of these risks come along with problems like not understanding discharge instructions, what complications to look for after discharge, or not fully comprehending follow-up care. Even worse, if an LEP patient places a call to a care provider for guidance, they may be faced with a phone tree in a language they don't understand. Unfortunately, this could lead to the patient either hanging up or giving up on getting information altogether. 

Benefits of Multilingual Phone Trees for LEP Patients 

Multilingual phone trees offer an inclusive line of communication for all patients who try to contact a healthcare organization. LEP patients can already be apprehensive about making contact due to perceived discrimination or anxiety about not being able to communicate with a care provider. This can indeed lead to poor outcomes for already at-risk patients. 

Imagine having limited-English comprehension and being recently discharged from the hospital. The provider may have offered language services to support you in-office through a procedure or treatment. However, when you get home, you have a concerning symptom indicating that something is wrong and you need medical advice. You call the provider only to be greeted with an English-speaking voice, routed to different departments repeatedly, and get nowhere. Eventually, you get tired of trying and hang up. 

This scenario shows how important a multilingual phone tree could be, even for providers that have an extensive language support system in the office. By contrast, when an LEP patient places a call to a healthcare provider and is greeted by someone who speaks their own language, this enhances the human experience in healthcare and could mean: 

  • The patient develops a greater sense of trust in the provider 
  • The patient is more likely to get the information they need about their health quickly 
  • The patient is less likely to face adverse health outcomes due to lacking follow-up care 

Get Help With Multilingual Communications from GLOBO

GLOBO offers telephone interpreting in more than 430 languages to help medical care providers take the best care of their LEP patients. If you are looking for telephonic language access solutions, reach out to GLOBO to find out what options will work best for your organization. 

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