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The healthcare industry’s shift to value-based care is well underway. The model advocates improving outcomes for acute and chronic patients through evidence-based, cost-effective care. Part of improving patients’ health outcomes is ensuring your medical staff can clearly communicate with every patient, regardless of language. Providing meaningful access to language support while maintaining hospital-physician alignment, and managing budget can be a challenge for your healthcare system.
Here are some things to consider about the three methods of interpretation and the advantages and challenges that each one presents:
What are the advantages: On-Site or Face-to-Face Interpreting has been around since the Pyramids, and the fact that it is still the preferred method of most providers means it obviously works. The interpreter in the room has the greatest chance of ensuring that all verbal and non-verbal cues are understood and considered in the diagnosis and treatment of a patient.
What are the challenges: In a nutshell: logistics. Ensuring that you maximize the utilization of staff interpreters, and coordinating their scheduling with one or multiple external vendors, can present major challenges. When you factor in required minimum appointment charges, cancellation fees, schedule changes and other ancillary costs, on-site interpreting can get expensive.
Bottom line: When the stakes are high, it’s difficult to replace the value of an on-site interpreter in the care setting with the patient and provider. The mission is to educate providers about feeling comfortable accessing viable on-demand interpreting services for shorter, simpler or immediate interactions.
What are the advantages: Telephone Interpreting (TI) is the workhorse because it’s available on-demand, it’s reliable and it is the lowest cost service of the three. Reputable language services providers can quickly connect providers and limited-English-speaking patients with medically qualified interpreters in over 200 languages.
What are the challenges: Non-verbal communication is important, and in some care scenarios, it’s critical to the provider’s ability to diagnose and treat a patient. Telephone interpreting does not allow for non-verbal communication, and it can’t be used to interpret for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing population.
Bottom line: As long as your language services provider is connecting providers to medically qualified linguists, telephone interpreting is an excellent solution in the majority of patient encounters. It is fast, efficient, cost-effective, and requires only basic technology (a phone).
What are the advantages: Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) provides a platform for verbal and non-verbal communication in an on-demand service model, and puts a medically qualified interpreter virtually in the room with your providers. VRI also gives your providers the ability to communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients without having to schedule an on-site interpreter, or wait for an on-site interpreter to arrive.
What are the challenges: A poor video connection is worse than no connection at all. Factors that may be out of your control, like your site’s network, Wi-Fi signal strength, physical plant, and unreliable or out-of-date hardware, can all play a role in degrading video quality to the point of being rendered insufficient for care. Regarding language access, language services providers typically offer fewer on-demand languages through VRI, and the cost per minute can be slightly higher than it is for TI.
Bottom line: If your language services provider can work closely with your facility's team (yes, that includes the IS department) to address the infrastructure, network, Wi-Fi and other facility-related factors, VRI can be a great way to bridge the gap between on-site and telephone interpreting.
Every healthcare encounter is unique, and your patients will have a preference for how they interact with your providers through a medically qualified interpreter. Your healthcare facility must not only be cognizant of this, but be prepared to meet both patients’ and providers’ needs by offering all three interpreting methods as viable options.
Aligning with your providers by listening to their concerns and educating them about their interpretation options--including the associated costs, challenges, and appropriate use cases for each--will help ensure you provide meaningful (and affordable) language access in your community.
Visualize how access to a comprehensive suite of language services can positively impact your health facility by improving internal efficiency and communication with your limited-English patients.