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Who Benefits From Language Services in Healthcare?

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Language support helps to break down language barriers, contributing to better communication between patients and clinicians. With the right solution in place, language support can be the key to top-notch patient care.But who, exactly, benefits from language support? Keep reading to learn more about the growing population that depends on these services for access to quality care.

Limited-English Proficient Individuals

Language support in healthcare exists to help limited-English proficient (LEP) individuals or people who:

  • Are over 5 years old
  • Speak a language other than English at home
  • Speak English less than "very well"

Foreign-born LEP Individuals

Foreign-born individuals make up the largest percentage of LEP individuals in the United States — and this population only continues to grow. According to Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the foreign-born LEP population in the U.S. more than doubled between 1990 and 2013. 

And while more recent information about the specific nationality of LEP individuals is not yet available, the continued influx of immigrants suggests that the number of foreign-born LEPs is likely growing. The MPI reports an immigrant population growth of over 5.3 million just between 2010 and 2021, for a total of over 45.27 million. And according to the U.S. Census, a net of one million immigrants entered the country in 2022 (an increase of 168.8% from 2021). 

Now, not all immigrants qualify as LEPs. According to a 2020 report, 37% already have high English proficiency, and 17% speak English at home. That means about 46% of immigrants have limited-English proficiency. So of those one million immigrants that entered the U.S. in 2022, about 460,000 are LEP individuals. 

And an increase of nearly half a million each year is quite substantial, especially considering the overall U.S. population growth decline

Native-born LEP Individuals

Although it's much more common for foreign-born individuals to have limited-English proficiency, a significant percentage of native-born individuals also qualify as LEPs. 

The MPI reports that the native-born LEP population remained steady at around five million for over 20 years. The most recent data (from 2013) totaled the native-born population at 4.68 million, or 18.7% of the entire LEP population. 

Hard of hearing and Deaf Communities

Other groups that benefit from language services in healthcare are the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, which total about 11.5 million people. Many of these individuals often have limited-English proficiency because they use another language to communicate: American Sign Language (ASL). 

Of course, there is a broad spectrum for varying levels of hearing loss and deafness, so not everyone uses ASL or considers it their first language. But there are still about 500,000 people in the U.S. and Canada that use ASL as their natural language. 

Addressing LEP Individuals' Needs in Healthcare

About 8.3% of the U.S. population has limited-English proficiency, totaling over 27.5 million people. Deaf and hard of hearing people typically aren't included in LEP statistics, so add another 500,000 people to that number to account for ASL users. That brings the total to over 28 million people. To put that in perspective, that's equal to 3.3 times the population of New York City. 

Despite this significantly large population, there are still limited language support services available in many healthcare facilities. Many LEP patients must rely on family members or bilingual staff members for interpretation, and some healthcare providers use basic language skills or online translators to make do. Both these situations can lead to medical errors and unsafe conditions because these people are not trained to interpret — let alone interpret in a highly nuanced environment like healthcare. 

Unfortunately, these less-than-ideal interpreting situations put LEP patients in a vulnerable position. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that LEP patients are much more likely to experience minimal to severe harm from adverse medical events due to language barriers. For example, they might receive incorrect treatment, undergo unnecessary medical procedures, or take the wrong medication. 

Qualified medical interpreters help prevent such errors and improve the quality of patient care by providing precise and culturally appropriate interpretations.

Improving Patient and Provider Experiences

Language services not only create better experiences for LEP patients, but it positively impacts the experience for healthcare providers and staff.

By equipping your health system with high-quality language services and ensuring all staff are trained on the proper procedures, your organization can experience a multitude of benefits, including: 

Get High-Quality Language Services to Better Serve Your Community

Don't let language barriers stand in the way of offering exceptional patient care. Whether you need translation or interpreting services, you can start closing the communication gap with the help of qualified medical linguists at GLOBO. Schedule a demo today and discover how you can better serve your patients.

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