There are approximately 47 million people in the United States who speak a language other than English. Effective communication is critical to safe, quality health care, yet many health care organizations fall short when it comes to caring for Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients.

According to a study conducted by the International Journal for Quality in Health Care, language barriers in hospitals were shown to increase risks to patient safety. Data was collected on adverse events affecting both LEP and English-speaking patients. The study showed that when adverse events were tracked in both groups, 49.1% of those experienced by LEP patients involved physical harm, while only 29.5% of adverse events experienced by English-speaking patients did. Of the patients who experienced physical harm, 46.8 % of LEP patients were rated at levels of “moderate temporary harm to death” while only 24.4% of the English speakers had the same harm ratings. 52.4% of the LEP patients’ adverse events were related to communication errors, while 35.9% of the English speakers were communication-related.

To rectify this situation, the Joint Commission has created new communication and language standards for health care organizations that will go into effect in January 2011. Hospitals seeking accreditation will need to comply with these new standards, which include providing proficient in-person or phone interpreters; ensuring that written documentation (forms, instructions, signage, etc.) is properly translated into appropriate languages; and that caregivers and health professionals are trained in culturally sensitive communication among different ethnic groups.

To find out more about  the Joint Commission and the standards, call 877-ANY-LANG or email today!