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Medical Interpreting: 3 Signs Your Hospital Deserves an Upgrade

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 18, 2016 11:47:45 AM / by Matt Schuh

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Patient-provider communication has a direct impact on medical outcomes, patient satisfaction and system-wide efficiency. Considering the ongoing growth of the limited-English population, a hospital’s language support is becoming more important each day.

Reflecting on your own facility: Does your health system have the interpreting support in place to break down language barriers, promote patient satisfaction and minimize medical errors? If you're not entirely sure, here are three signs your hospital deserves a medical interpreting upgrade.

#1. Your HCAHPS scores could use improvement.

There are about a dozen questions on the HCAHPS survey dedicated to patient-provider communication and, since the Affordable Care Act, patient satisfaction scores have taken on a new level of significance for health systems. While the fate of the ACA is uncertain, a focus on patient-centered care will continue to be a primary concern in healthcare. In 2012, the ACA began including HCAHPS scores among the measures to be used to calculate value-based incentive payments in the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program. These value-based programs reward healthcare providers with incentive payments for the quality of care they give to people with Medicare. As a result, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) tie HCAHPS scores directly to a systems’ reimbursements. And as it currently stands, by 2017, up to 2% of your facility’s Medicare reimbursements could be at risk dependent on the outcome of your HCAHPS survey.

While medical interpreting is not the only factor that affects your patient satisfaction score, it’s still important. Especially because twenty percent of the U.S. population (one in five Americans) speaks a language other than English at home. And because of this, your hospital deserves a unified and comprehensive strategy for language services.

#2. Your hospital staff resort to interpreting shortcuts.

How do your colleagues feel about your medical interpreting services? When a staff member needs to communicate with a limited-English patient, do they use the services your hospital has in place, or do they resort to interpreting shortcuts, such as:

Utilizing the patient’s family members. This shortcut is problematic for two reasons:

  1. The family member may not be familiar with medical terminology, and may not ask questions.
  2. Using a family member infringes patient confidentiality, possibly dissuading the patient from disclosing critical health information.
Requesting help from a bilingual colleague. This shortcut presents a risk because the colleague may not be qualified or trained to interpret, and is more likely to make clinically significant mistakes than a qualified medical interpreter.  

Relying on the patient's limited-English abilities. This shortcut jeopardizes patient-provider communication. Aside from the language barrier, patients’ cultural beliefs, values and preferences can influence how they express themselves, attribute significance to pain, express symptoms and receive healthcare messages. The final challenge is the low health literacy* rate among Limited English Proficient patients.

*Health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. 


If your team is taking shortcuts rather than utilizing your facility’s professional services, you’ve got to wonder why. Perhaps your staff are frustrated because your vendor's interpreters are not medically qualified. Or maybe your vendor has not provided your facility with enough reliable access points to language support.

#3. You're not getting the data you need.

In today's market, real-time data is a critical component of any professional service delivery. If you're not getting real-time service level data (such as Interpreter Connect Time and Average Handle Time), usage data (such as call volume and language mix), population insights, and an understanding of how it is affecting patient satisfaction, readmission and outcomes, then you're not getting the data you need.

Time to upgrade?

If any of these three signs strike a chord, you may want to reevaluate your medical interpreting services. Look for alternative language services providers and learn about the technology that aids in effective patient communication.

Here are the things your vendor should do: 

  • Screen and test their medical interpreters for medical knowledge, language proficiency and cultural sensitivity.
  • Work with only medical interpreters who have at least two years of professional interpreting experience.
  • Offer live visibility into all of your language services data through one portal that’s accessible from any device, whenever you need it.
  • Connect your staff to telephone interpreters in seconds, not minutes.
  • Supply enough hardware to ensure your staff never have to waste time searching for the equipment they need.
  • Provide comprehensive language support – telephone interpretingtranslationon-site interpretingtranscreation and video remote interpreting  – so you don’t have to manage multiple relationships with mutliple vendors.
If you’re questioning the quality of your facility’s medical interpreting services, it’s time to start exploring what else is out there. See how technology, data and manpower merge to offer the highest quality language support in the industry. 

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Topics: Healthcare, Language Services

Matt Schuh

Written by Matt Schuh

VP, Sales & Strategy at GLOBO