The number of patients in the U.S. who do not speak English or speak only limited English has risen in recent decades, presenting a challenge to healthcare systems to provide high-quality, patient-centered care for this group — in fact, a new study found that Chinese and Spanish speakers were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than English speakers.
According to Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) company Stratus Video Interpreting, the increasingly diverse population is largely the impetus for increasing language barriers in U.S. hospitals—a sentiment echoed by reports that more than 90 percent of hospitals said they see Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients frequently, and 97 percent see them daily. As a company dedicated to eliminating language barriers throughout the U.S., Stratus offers an advanced system that connects healthcare facilities with a cloud-based network of certified spoken language interpreters with the ability to translate over 175 different spoken and sign languages.
Twenty-one million Americans have LEP, meaning they possess a limited ability to read, write, speak or understand English—and reports show that failing to remove language barriers in a healthcare facility can potentially result in life-and-death situations. In the case of a nine-year old girl, the lapse resulted in fatal consequences:
In the Tran case, the patient, a nine-year old Vietnamese girl, died from a reaction to the drug Reglan. Her parents primarily spoke Vietnamese, yet no competent interpreter was used throughout the child’s encounters with the medical system. Instead, records show that the patient and her 16-year-old brother served as interpreters. In the subsequent lawsuit, an expert witness who was a professional interpreter testified that “the parents were not able to adequately understand and address [the patient’s] medical needs—the failure of the doctor and the facility to provide a professional medical interpreter was a substantial factor in causing [patient]’s death.”
Although awareness of the need for better language support services in healthcare has increased during the past decade, progress has been limited and lacks standardization on a national scale, per Stratus CEO Sean Belanger. In addition to the potentially fatal risks, language barriers between physicians and patients are also associated with repeat visits to the emergency room, longer hospital stays, and an increased number and severity of medical errors.
“Language barriers make it difficult for communication between doctor and patient, but most importantly, they put patients’ safety at risk—and that’s a danger too big to take when the situation can be remedied with certified interpreters and technology,” said Belanger.
Stratus’ interpreting service is an application that can be loaded onto any PC, Mac, Smartphone or Tablet; the technology can even be applied to Polycom and Cisco systems. Through a virtual private network, an encrypted call is placed to one of Stratus’ 33 video call centers across the U.S., and the next available interpreter in that language is found and connected.
Stratus specializes in medical and court interpreting, but the company’s technology is applicable to every industry. Stratus employs experienced, highly-qualified interpreters who can either be used to supplement an existing interpreting infrastructure or to replace live and over-the-phone interpreters altogether.
“Through providing information, comfort, advocacy and support, we save lives every day; we give a voice to the voiceless,” said Belanger.