About 20 percent of the United States population speaks a language other than English at home, and almost 9 percent of the population is defined as having Limited English Proficiency. And almost 100 percent of these people must interact with healthcare providers and insurers either in emergency situations or for routine care. For LEP individuals, language access is a critical part of accessing healthcare. A lack of language access can create barriers for LEP patients and their families, putting them at risk for complications and unnecessary expenses. Language access can also help or hurt a provider, hospital, or insurance’s ability to provide the right care or coverage.

Here are the many ways that limited language access can affect patients, healthcare providers, and insurance.

More Adverse Events without Language Access

LEP patients are almost twice as likely to suffer adverse events in U.S. hospitals, resulting in temporary harm or death, according to a pilot study by The Joint Commission.

Another study reported that 52 percent of adverse events that occurred to LEP patients in U.S. hospitals were likely the result of communication errors and that nearly half of these events involved some physical harm.

Lack of language services can cause increased use of expensive diagnostic tests, increased number and duration of emergency room visits, and a higher likelihood of intubation for children with asthma.

Decreased Satisfaction without Language Access

Language barriers affect patient satisfaction and whether or not patients will return to a particular healthcare institution. Providers can also become frustrated with limited language access in a healthcare setting when they want to serve all patients equally and to the best of their abilities.

Reduced Care without Language Access

Patients who face language barriers are less likely to have a usual source of medical care and to receive preventive services. They also have an increased risk of nonadherence to medication.

Difficulty Communicating without Language Access 

In a Colorado study, LEP patients reported difficulty making appointments, including multiple phone transfers and frequent disconnections. The lack of qualified interpreters made them fearful of accessing care and prevented them from seeking the treatment they needed. Patients also said it was difficult to get accurate and timely information related to medication and access preventive care.

Conversely, when LEP individuals receive language access resources in a healthcare setting, their quality of care and satisfaction increase. For example:

Improved Patient Outcomes from Language Access

When LEP patients receive medical language services, hospitals experience an increase in LEP patient engagement, an enhancement in LEP patient-provider communication, and improvements in LEP patient outcome. Patients who receive clear and concise information about their healthcare and well-being tend to be more actively engaged in their care plans, resulting in shorter lengths of stay and lower readmissions.

Reduced Hospital Stays from Language Access

The use of a qualified medical interpreter can lessen the length of an LEP patient’s stay by almost a day, according to a study by the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health & Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Shorter stay lengths can improve LEP patient outcomes and significantly lower the cost of patient care for health systems.

As a healthcare provider or insurance company, offering language access services that address the needs of LEP patients can increase access and quality of care while decreasing time, expense, and adverse events.

At Avantpage, we can help your healthcare organization reach LEP populations and expand language access. To find out more about our services call us at 530-750-2040 x11, or request a free quote.