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Patients with limited-English proficiency (LEP) are at higher risk for healthcare readmission and experience longer stays than English-speaking patients. Additionally, heightened readmission rates drive up costs for the healthcare system as a whole.
Unfortunately, subpar language support within healthcare settings contributes to the issue. Here is a closer look at the extent of the problem among LEP patients, as well as how adequate language support can make a difference.
According to the latest data collected, about 1 in 5 people in the American population do not speak English at home. This represents just over 8% of the population, which means a significant portion of the population may not receive quality healthcare purely due to language barriers. This lack of language support drives higher readmission rates and longer patient stays because patients are:
Health disparities between English-speaking and LEP patients are obviously the top concern to address; these individuals rightfully deserve quality, safe health services like everyone else. However, readmissions and longer hospital stays can also drive up the costs of healthcare in a way that affects everyone.
High rates of readmission affect the care provider's financial performance, as greater use of the care provider's resources can decrease the profitability of treating a patient. Beyond that, however, payers like Medicare charge penalties of between 1% and 3% when a care organization has higher-than-standard readmissions. With reduced payments from payers due to penalties, care providers may have to raise prices to offset the loss. This is only one example of how cost models change due to high numbers of readmissions.
Medical malpractice, another huge driver of healthcare costs, can also be related to lacking communication. According to medical safety experts, around 80% of medical errors that could be deemed as "serious" were the direct result of poor communication. In one study of 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits, 7,000 were related to communication failures.
While readmission rates are driven by things like lack of understanding of aftercare during recovery among LEP patients, there is also a link between patient satisfaction scores and readmission rates.
In a prospective cohort study carried out in 2016, researchers looked at the link between satisfaction rates with 846 patients and readmission in an effort to understand the odds of readmission within 30 days of discharge. In general, about one-third of patients are readmitted for further care after they've been in the hospital for care. However, the study revealed that the patients with the highest satisfaction scores were actually 39% less likely to be readmitted for care in the 30 days following release.
This is an important finding in terms of LEP patients, which often have much lower satisfaction scores with care than the general population.
Implementing the right levels of language support in healthcare makes a major difference in both readmission rates and length of stay for LEP patients.
In a large-scale study of over 3,000 LEP patients over a three-year period, researchers took a look at the length of hospital stay and readmission rates with and without the use of professional interpreters. Nearly 15% of patients who had access to an interpreter at admission and discharge were readmitted within 30 days. However, over 24% of those who had no interpreter at all during admission and discharge were readmitted within 30 days. The average patient length of stay was also substantially different. Patients with an interpreter stayed on average 2.57 days, whereas patients without an interpreter stayed on average 5.06 days.
Language support also enhances patient satisfaction scores among LEP patients. In one randomized controlled trial, 96% of Spanish-speaking patients that were assigned an interpreter during care visits reported that they were "very satisfied" with the communication they experienced during the visit. Of patients in the control group with no interpreter, only 24% were satisfied.
The value of good language support in healthcare settings is clear—language support means better care for patients, lower instances of readmission, and even shorter stays. Therefore, implementing the most effective communication strategies is no doubt important.
GLOBO has the best quality interpreters, including telephone and video interpreting, and a dedicated customer success team to ensure your language access program is meeting the needs of your organization. Get in touch today and start improving experiences (for everyone).