About 10% of U.S. patients have limited English proficiency. By law, all hospitals that receive federal funds must offer some kind of interpreting service to those patients. Big medical centers usually have an on-staff interpreter proficient in the most needed languages like Spanish. Small hospitals often have to rely on a clumsy “he said/she said” solution, where the patient and provider pass a cell phone back and forth while a translator in a distant city tries to sort things out.
Sometimes an interpreter can’t be found at all – and that can have a negative impact on outcomes. In a recent study at two pediatric ERs, when a nonprofessional interpreter (such as a family member) was involved, there was a lot of miscommunication. And nearly 25% of those translation errors posed potential health risks for the children being treated.
That’s why many healthcare organizations are turning to telemedicine for solutions. With remote presence, hospitals don’t need to hire full-time interpreters because the language experts are available 24/7. Instead of a crackly phone call, patients get face-to-face communication (resulting in fewer errors). And you can find interpreters for a variety of languages, not just Spanish.
Here’s one scenario: Suppose a business traveler from Rio de Janeiro comes to the ER at a large medical center in Los Angeles. They’ve got an excellent Spanish interpreter on staff, but the man speaks Portuguese, not Spanish. The interpreter might get close to a decent translation, but close isn’t good enough in the ER. With remote presence, you can quickly connect the patient with a Portuguese interpreter in Boston.
Because of health reform, patient satisfaction now plays a key role in reimbursement. And a recent study in Annals of Emergency Medicine revealed that patients who had professional interpreters had satisfaction scores that were four times higher than patients relying on family members.
It’s all very simple. Remote presence boosts patient satisfaction, which in turn boosts reimbursement. That’s a language everyone can understand.