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Since 1980, the Healthy People initiative has set goals and measurable objectives to improve health and well-being in the United States. The initiative's fifth edition, Healthy People 2030, builds on all the information, research, and insights gained over the past four decades to address current and emerging public health priorities and challenges.
Public health is a very broad field, and public health professionals and organizations are tasked with addressing and solving large and sweeping issues that affect the health and well-being of members of society. Because public health is so broad and covers so many aspects, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created 10-year initiatives to tackle specific issues within the public health sphere.
Every 10 years, HHS assembles a task force of experts to identify the biggest threats and challenges in public health. This team analyzes data and looks at existing health concerns, then projects what the next 10 years are likely to bring.
The first report came out in 1979. Each subsequent report has learned from prior initiatives to improve the way we approach public health goals. The second report, which came out in 1980, was the first to include specific and measurable 10-year goals.
The most recent report, Healthy People 2030, continues with the prior decade's goals of:
A significant focus for 2030 is addressing social determinants of health. These are defined as external factors that can impact a person's overall health and well-being, grouped into five areas:
When HHS releases the goals for the coming decade, they also release data on the core objectives and set specific targets to achieve in the next 10 years. The workgroup collects annual data and releases resources necessary to implement the goals. Experts decide what to focus on based on the availability of baseline data and the ability to achieve specific and measurable progress in that area.
The report also includes developmental objectives that are clear public health priorities but that do not have enough baseline data available to set specific and measurable goals. One of those developmental objectives for Healthy People 2030 is to increase the proportion of adults with limited-English proficiency (LEP) who say their providers explain things clearly.
Healthcare providers know the importance of clear communication with staff and other providers, payers or administrators, and especially patients. For LEP patients, though, this can be a significant issue. They may not understand what a physician is telling them because of the language barrier. This can lead to misunderstandings about:
The research available on the topic reveals that patients with LEP are far more likely to experience adverse events that result in physical harm in a healthcare setting (49.1% compared to 29.5% of English-proficient patients). Those adverse events are also more likely to be from communication errors (52.4% of LEP patients compared to 35.9% of English-proficient patients).
In another study, patient stays in the hospital were almost twice as long for those who had no interpreter compared to those who had an interpreter at admission and discharge. The same study looked at 30-day hospital readmission rates. For those with an interpreter at admission and discharge, readmission rates were 14.9%. The readmission rate for patients with no interpreter was 63% higher.
This is a significant problem that leads to poor care outcomes, higher risk for patients, and higher total cost of care.
As public health experts study this issue, healthcare providers and systems can expect to see more data outlining the risks to LEP patients. Fortunately, with more data and awareness, HHS can provide resources and recommendations on best practices for reducing communication errors. That may include:
Healthcare systems do not need to wait for the final report from Healthy People 2030 or other directives from HHS to improve language services and create a more patient-centered approach to care for LEP populations. There are things you can do today to improve your services.
Want to learn more about language support services in healthcare? Download our whitepaper, Best Practices for Working with an Interpreter, today. Contact GLOBO to learn how our interpreters can help improve provider communication and patient outcomes in your clinic.