Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth visits were on the rise. For quick questions or for standard prescription refills, patients could simply chat with their doctors from the comfort of their own homes. Now, with the pandemic, e-visits have become commonplace. One might even say they have become a necessity. Unfortunately, logistical barriers exist for underserved populations, specifically for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). So how can remote interpreting bridge that crucial communication gap?

Between April 2019 and April 2020, telehealth claims increased by 8,336% (!). About 1 in 7 medical claims were being submitted virtually. It was indicative of a permanent shift to virtual healthcare, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only expedited that process. However, for the 25 million Americans with LEP (approximately 1 in 11 Americans), telehealth is not always as convenient. Logistical issues, especially language barriers, often prevent them from getting the care they need.  

Studies have shown that, on average, people with LEP wait much longer to visit with a physician, and with COVID-19, many healthcare providers have reported that they are seeing even fewer LEP patients than usual. Possible explanations could be that instructions for telemedicine platforms aren’t available in enough languages, that the patient’s languages are not available via a video or telephonic interpreter, or simply because many LEP patients are not aware of their right to a qualified interpreter and other language access provisions at no extra cost. 

There are many important and practical reasons for patients and physicians to communicate effectively. Physicians need to obtain accurate medical histories, and patients need to understand the physician’s instructions. When the language barrier is not addressed effectively, preventative services can be delayed, resulting in the exacerbation of chronic conditions and the deterioration of acute symptoms. Other implications of this barrier include inappropriate use of medication, longer hospital stays, and poor patient satisfaction.

Investing in linguistically appropriate healthcare has also proven to be a win-win situation for all. When healthcare providers use qualified medical interpreters, fewer errors are made, fewer unnecessary tests are ordered, and the overall quality of care improves. It reduces costs and it literally saves lives. Additionally, appropriate linguistic care has also been instrumental in limiting the spread of COVID-19 across LEP communities. Aside from LEP communities, there is one other major community that struggles with linguistic barriers in healthcare.

The deaf and hard of hearing community require special attention because sign language is a three-dimensional language. When it is reduced to a two-dimensional screen, much is lost in translation. Deaf patients may also need two interpreters. Aside from an ASL interpreter, deaf patients may also require a certified deaf interpreter to translate non-ASL languages to ASL. A hearing ASL interpreter will then translate this to the provider. In short, the healthcare industry faces many challenges in this virtual transition, but how can they overcome them?

Healthcare providers that use interpreting technology platforms such as Interpreter Intelligence have all the tools they need to provide high-quality linguistic services to their patients. Interpreter Intelligence offers fully HIPAA-compliant remote interpreting solutions, either over the phone, or via video conferencing. Third parties can be dialed in on the spot, and any relevant information can be collected and documented during the call via our customizable reference fields,  completely tailored to the needs of your organization. To learn more about our remote interpreting features, schedule a demo by clicking the orange button above.

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