It’s an unavoidable fact of life: However unpleasant it may be, eventually we all fall sick, suffer an accident, or otherwise require health services that require us to go to a Hospital or Clinic.
Now put yourself in the place of an immigrant who is not fluent in English. You will find yourself in a vulnerable position as everybody around you speaks a language you don’t understand. Critical aspects of Healthcare like communicating symptoms, receiving instructions for check-ups, giving consent, understanding the diagnosis, or being able to understand recommendations and prescriptions, now become huge obstacles.
Here is where Linguistic Services turn vital, and sadly this isn’t an exaggeration. There are documented cases where faulty or non-existent linguistic services resulted in deaths.
Fortunately, In the United States Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) have the right to receive language accessibility services. There is a significant legal framework for these rights starting from the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VI) and including among others the Executive Order (EO) 13166: Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.
This resulted in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Policy Guidance.
There are four factors that medical providers should consider in determining the extent and types of language assistance that should be pursued.
- The number or proportion of LEP persons served or eligible to be served: the greater the number or proportion of LEP persons, the more likely language services are needed.
- Frequency of contact: the more frequent the contact with a particular language group, the more likely it that interpreting or translating services in that language are needed.
- The more important the recipient’s service or program, the more likely language services are needed.
- The Guidance states that “smaller recipients with more limited budgets are not expected to provide the same level of language services as larger recipients with larger budgets. (…)Large entities and those entities serving a significant number or proportion of LEP persons should ensure that their resource limitations are well-substantiated before using this factor as a reason to limit language assistance.”
If the institution accepts Medicare (Part A or C) or Medicaid patients, then it cannot avoid its responsibility to provide language access services. Please note that even if the institution does not accept Medicare or Medicaid it may be obligated to provide language access services by state law.
Even though it is a legal requirement, healthcare providers have the chance of going beyond the law requirements and doing what is best for their patients.
That includes supporting as many languages as are needed, working with qualified language professionals, and evaluating the performance of language providers continuously.
We started this article by explaining the situation of an immigrant facing the challenge of going to a hospital while having Limited English Proficiency. That story can have a happy ending if the hospital gives the patient the opportunity to effectively communicate with the medical staff.
An additional important benefit of robust language support is the ability to send doctors translated versions of the patients’ clinical histories, and we must not forget how important it is to allow patients to provide informed consent. After all, can patients consent to something they don’t understand?
Language Services have quickly become an integral aspect of Healthcare. As demographic trends continue, it is up to the institutions to be up to the challenge and provide services that have the best interest of their patients as their main priority.
At Australis Localization, we provide healthcare translation services for written content such as brochures, informed consents, marketing materials, transcription, and subtitles.
We love everything localization and regularly post on this blog. Subscribe for periodical articles about Healthcare translations and other topics.
“The Legal Framework for Language Access in Healthcare Settings: Title VI and Beyond” by Alice Hm Chen, MD, MPH, Mara K. Youdelman, JD, LLM, and Jamie Brooks, JD: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2150609/
“Are Your Services Accessible to All?” by Daneen Grooms, MHSA and Carol Polovoy: https://leader.pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/leader.FTR2.22112017.54