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How Emergency Departments can Streamline the Admission and Discharge Processes with Language Support

July 25, 2017   -   Posted by Matt Schuh

Wait times in U.S. emergency departments (ED) are increasing; today, patients wait approximately 44 minutes before seeing a medical professional, compared to 35 minutes in 2008. Limited English Proficient patients coming into a crowded ED may experience even longer wait times if language support is unavailable.

Several challenges, including the increasing number of emergency room visits and the prevalence of patient boarding, can lead to ED crowding and extended wait times. Regardless of its causes, ED crowding results in inefficient patient flow, lower quality of care and poor health outcomes.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities are adopting strategies that optimize patient flow and streamline the admission (and discharge) process in an effort to reduce ED crowding and improve health outcomes. With language support in place, every patient benefits from a swifter, more efficient flow through the ED. Here’s how partnering with a language services provider can minimize ED crowding, quicken patient flow and improve care for all patients.

Knowing who your patients are

Just 9 percent of the more than 130.4 million yearly ED visits result in an admission. Emergency doctors and nurses must triage patients and determine their medical status quickly and accurately. One way EDs can improve patient flow, specifically with limited-English-speaking patients, is to leverage demographic data to streamline the admissions process.

EDs that continually review population data, provided by a language services partner, can more easily identify the languages spoken in its coverage area. Armed with this population data, EDs can proactively allocate resources, including:

  • Staffing qualified language-concordant medical personnel (or interpreters) that speak the area’s most prevalent languages
  • Translating consent forms, admission documents, basic ED information and discharge instructions into languages commonly spoken in the area

Having access to interpreters, translated materials

Access to interpreting services can reduce the amount of time a limited-English-speaking patient spends in the ED. Not only does tapping into on-demand telephone and video remote interpreters through a language services provider ensure patients are accurately cared for, but utilizing these resources can improve patient flow.

If interpreting services aren’t accessible, admission and discharge can be delayed; for example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Reporting found a patient had to wait for a stress test because a Spanish interpreter was unavailable, which delayed discharge by at least 24 hours. 

By partnering with a language services provider that delivers on-demand access to medically qualified interpreters, EDs can improve communications between doctors and patients and improve patient flow.

Additionally, a language services provider can help EDs translate notices of nondiscrimination, which inform patients of their right to interpreting and translation services, and also supply posters or cards that enable patients to identify their native language. The notices and signage can be placed in common areas and on the health system’s website, too. When patients can quickly identify their language, EDs can connect to medically qualified linguists faster.

Providing clearer instructions during admission, discharge

Providing efficient care with better patient flow represents a real opportunity to reduce avoidable readmissions. Language services must be a part of the admission and discharge processes, as Limited English Proficient patients often experience longer hospital stays when no interpreter is present during admission/discharge.

Communicating discharge instructions often presents a challenge, as patients may not comprehend complex medical instructions. A 2012 study found that limited-English-speaking patients have a worse understanding of their medications compared to English-speaking patients, and stated that ensuring patients understand instructions in their preferred language is vital in preventing medication errors and readmissions.

The discharge process is one area where ED staff must use qualified medical interpreters, rather than ad hoc interpreters such as bilingual staff or family members.

Fixing the imbalance

ED crowding is a supply-demand imbalance. Medical personnel can improve patient flow in the ED by effectively communicating with all of their patients, especially Limited English Proficient individuals. By partnering with a language services provider, EDs can leverage on-demand interpreting and document translation services to keep patient flow as efficient as possible. In addition, access to medically qualified interpreters has been shown to improve health outcomes and minimize readmission rates for Limited English Proficient patients.

Incorporating language support

Learn how incorporating unified language support throughout the continuum of care can result in better health outcomes, lowered readmission rates and improved patient satisfaction, while also meeting compliance, for your health system:

Take Your Healthcare System to the Next Level with Unified Language Support

Additional Resources