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Virtual care offers a safe and effective way to connect with patients whose needs do not require a hands-on examination or testing. However, the process can be challenging for your limited-English proficient (LEP) patients if you're not prepared to meet their language needs.
Telemedicine was already becoming an essential option before the COVID-19 pandemic, and its adoption only accelerated in the months that followed.
When evaluating your language access plan, considering the patient journey is critical. Every touchpoint must be accounted for, from the first patient inquiry to follow-up care instructions. As the way in which Americans access healthcare changes, so will the ways multilingual patients communicate with providers.
Here are the major touchpoints to consider when mapping out language services needs during the virtual patient journey for limited-English speakers.
Most telehealth scheduling happens online, either on a healthcare provider's own website or through a third-party scheduling platform. This can present the first pain point for LEP patients, who may find reading instructions online and filling out forms in English challenging. Instead, it's important to provide alternate scheduling options for your LEP patients, including scheduling by phone with the assistance of a qualified telephone interpreter, or providing online scheduling request forms in their preferred language.
Intake typically requires patients to fill out several detailed forms regarding their current health, medical history and medications. If your LEP patient isn't able to read and understand the contents of the form, they won't be able to fill it out accurately or at all. Instead, offer translation services at intake so patients can communicate important details about their health in their preferred language. It's ideal to have these materials pre-translated in your community's top-requested languages.
The intake process also provides a valuable opportunity to prepare LEP patients for their appointment. Limited-English speakers may be unfamiliar with how to use their phone or computer webcam and microphone technology. Or, they may worry about how the process will work with a video interpreter linked in. You can address these concerns by scheduling a phone meeting with office staff and an interpreter, along with a practice run if needed, before the actual appointment.
Conducting a telemedicine appointment can be challenging, especially if you are new to providing these services, and providing interpreting services for the appointment can add a new layer of concern. Yet, it is essential for LEP patients to have a medically qualified interpreter available throughout the appointment. If your patient wants a family member to serve as an interpreter, it is important to gently point out that there is a higher risk for medical errors when an untrained interpreter is used. Clearly state that the interpreting service you are providing is for patient safety.
During the appointment, it's best to utilize an embedded video interpreter so that the interpreter has a full understanding of the context. However, telephone interpretation also works well, provided you inform the interpreter of any concerns and note who is in the room with the patient. If you are utilizing a video interpreter, you may wish to cut the interpreter's video access during particularly sensitive parts of the exam.
Healthcare providers should ask one question at a time so that the interpreter has the opportunity to fully absorb and accurately interpret both the question and the response. Let the interpreter ask you questions directly to ensure clarification, and have the patient repeat back key aspects of your message to check for full understanding.
It is often easiest to schedule a follow-up visit during the initial appointment and arrange, if possible, to have the same interpreter involved. Facilitating this type of continuity of care can ease patient concerns, improve the overall patient experience, and increase the likelihood of patients committing to necessary follow-up appointments.
As virtual healthcare becomes more common, healthcare systems must consider the effect this change has on multilingual patients' access to care. Ensure every touchpoint on the patient journey is taken into account by working closely with your language solutions provider to determine where and when interpreter or translations services are needed most.
Want to learn how GLOBO can help your health system keep up with the changing times? Get in touch today.
At GLOBO, we’re journeying toward a future where everyone has the same experience no matter what language they speak. With GLOBO, Telephone Interpreting, Email & Chat Translation, Document Translation and more live in one place. Gain unprecedented visibility into usage and trends. Communicate in over 250 languages. Join the revolution and provide better experiences (for everyone).