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Health Equity & Language Access: How to be an Advocate for Change


Don't let communication barriers stand in the way of providing quality care. Take these steps to champion language access and advocate for limited-English speaking patients.

Step 1: Understand the Importance of Language Access

As an advocate, you can play a major in meeting the needs of your limited-English proficient (LEP) patients. The best way to understand the critical role of language support is to familiarize yourself with the challenges and health disparities these patients face, including: 

  • Decreased ability to access care or obtain necessary health screenings 
  • Poor interactions with physicians 
  • Higher rates of hospitalization or readmission 
  • Anxiety about seeking care when needed 
  • Inaccurate or ill-informed diagnoses 
  • Poor monitoring or treatment of chronic illness

Segments within LEP communities may be at an even greater risk for health disparities than others. For example, the elderly make up a high rate of LEP patients. These patients are often even more hesitant to seek care than younger LEP patients and are considered high-risk. It's critical to take varying factors such as these into consideration when researching the needs of your community. 

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Step 2: Educate Yourself About the LEP Population in Your Service Area 

While language access advocacy bridges gaps for all LEP patients, the more you know your specific community, the better you can serve their needs. For instance, if your service area includes a large population of Vietnamese-speaking individuals, you can ensure your organization has pre-translated print materials on hand. 

Populations vary by area and locale. You can gain insight into who is in your service area by: 

  • Examining the latest U.S. Census data 
  • Checking with community organizations 
  • Speaking with local school systems or religious entities 


Step 3: Have a Language Access Plan in Place

A crucial part of advocating for equal access is preparation. A Language Access Plan is a strategic effort to eliminate or reduce limited English proficiency as a barrier to accessing information. A well-designed Language Access Plan can combat disparities and facilitate better experiences for both patients and providers.

With appropriate language support in place, awareness of your services may increase the frequency of LEP patient visits. One easy way to be prepared for LEP patients is by utilizing language support services that offer remote interpretation via telephone or video in a multitude of languages. 


Step 4: Get to Know the Standards for Patient-Centered Communication 

Language access is a civil right — any healthcare facility that receives federal funding must take reasonable steps to offer language assistance. In an effort to reduce the health disparities among all patients, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act states that "individuals cannot be subject to discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability."

Whether you are seeking accreditation for your healthcare organization or simply looking to provide better patient-centered experiences, the Joint Commission offers guidelines that can help. The Joint Commission's guidelines offer key areas to focus on to enhance communication with patients, such as emergency management, provision of treatment and care, and even leadership practices. 


Ready to Take the First Step?

If you're interested in championing language access within your organization, download our free checklist to get started today.

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Additional Resources