Numerous studies show that communicating with patients in their own language results in better health outcomes, leading to healthier patients and lower medical costs for the patient and their insurers.
When reflecting on why this is so, it occurs to me that it is just plain old common sense. When patients, doctors, and medical staff have the ability to communicate, either through well-translated documents or the use of an interpreter, patients receive better medical care. They are able to communicate to their caregivers exactly what is wrong, and in turn doctors and nursing staff are able to explain the diagnosis and treatment clearly so that the patient understands and can follow through with medication and appropriate after-care.
So why is it that health care professionals sometimes drag their feet regarding language services?
Numerous providers see language services as a burden and an added cost for which they do not get reimbursed. In addition, in our current fee for service system, providers actually lose money if the patient consumes less or lower cost services! Talk about perverse incentives.
In truth, provider reimbursement for language services occurs in nontraditional ways: patients come in for treatment earlier before medical situations reach emergency status; they are less likely to ignore discharge instructions because of lack of understanding, and they recover more quickly. All of which leads to lowered costs incurred by insurers and health care organizations.
By translating signage, documentation and other media into languages other than English, health care organizations promote clear communication and good will while breaking down language barriers that lead to confusion for LEP patients. Furthermore, when patients know they have access to medical care that is presented in a language they understand, they are more apt to seek out needed care earlier, rather than waiting until a situation reaches emergency status.
Now in it second year, the Affordable Care Act encourages better outcomes through proactive care and wellness initiatives. And in today’s new health care marketplace, providers must compete with each other for LEP patients, and to do so they must be able to offer information, services and documentation in languages understood by these groups. Insurance providers now have an added incentive for reaching out to the LEP patients in their own languages. LEP patients are a critical part of Obamacare, and they make up a large number of the newly insured.
Again, common sense dictates that language services play a critical role in attracting LEP patients and keeping them happy and healthy. Addressing language barriers in the health care industry should be part of every provider’s strategy moving forward.