In Compliance, Industry News, Interpreting

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently surveyed nearly 500 Hispanic Adults in the U.S. on the important topic of communication in health care. While the survey focused on long-term care issues, the data revealed some startling facts regarding communication and cultural barriers in healthcare.

More than Half Have Encountered Barriers

57% of Hispanic adults surveyed experienced a language or cultural barrier in the healthcare system.

  • 44% experienced a cultural barrier
  • 49% experienced a language barrier
  • 57% experienced either a language or cultural barrier

Of the above, roughly half of those who reported a barrier of some sort reported experiencing barriers “sometimes” or “often.”

Only A Quarter Have Used an Interpreter[1]

Only about a quarter (26%) of the Hispanic adults surveyed reported communicating through an interpreter. While this number is, itself, surprisingly low, even more shocking is the breakdown between professional interpreters and family members. 52% of those who communicated through an interpreter reported that a family member acted as the interpreter. So, in reality, only 13.5% had access to a qualified interpreter to facilitate communication.

Why So Surprising?

The above figures are – simply put – shocking. Why? Because the law regarding language access compliance in healthcare should result in better numbers. Related to the above, healthcare facilities:

  • Must notify Limited English Proficient patients and caregivers about their right to free interpreting services.[2]
  • Are required to provide interpreting services, free of charge.[3]
  • May not rely on friends and family members as interpreters (except under very limited circumstances, like life-threatening emergencies).[4]

With the above in place, one would expect to see very few individuals experience language barriers and much closer to 100% of communication going through a qualified interpreter. This survey certainly highlights the work yet to be done to ensure language access equality for the Hispanic community. Fortunately, the language access toolbox is constantly expanding.

Technology to the Rescue?

One of the most promising figures in the survey is the number of older Hispanic individuals who are open to telemedicine services. 81% of adults over 40 reported that they would be comfortable with the idea of using at least one form of telemedicine services (i.e., phone, text, or video chat), with phone as the most popular option. These telemedicine services eliminate the need for an in-office visit, but don’t necessarily address language barriers.

However, technology also offers language access options: video remote interpreting (i.e., video chat with an interpreter via a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform) and over-the-phone interpreting. Either of these options can be used as a complement to telemedicine or be integrated into telehealth technology.

While the survey did not delve into the realm of technology-based interpreting services, the overall willingness to use technology for medical care strongly suggests that Hispanic patients would be open to video remote and/or over-the-phone interpreting during in-office visits with their healthcare providers. As discussed in our previous blog, Video Remote Interpreting – Not just for Hospitals!, healthcare facilities large and small, urban and rural, across the spectrum of healthcare have access to video remote interpreting – typically without capital investment.

Let’s Get to Work!

The healthcare industry has an amazing opportunity to embrace technology to improve communication with the Hispanic community and the greater Limited English Proficient community. By incorporating language access services in both in-person visits and in telemedicine, healthcare providers can foster wellness through mutual understanding. Want more information about video remote and/or over-the-phone interpreting? Connect with us today!




[1] The study refers to “translators.” From context, however, it seems clear that the study is actually referring to “interpreters.” Translators translate written text, whereas interpreters facilitate oral communication.

[2] See, for example, 45 CFR 92.8, requiring notice that the entity provides “language assistance services, including translated documents and oral interpretation, free of charge…”

[3] See, for example, 45 CFR 92.201(d)(1), “a covered entity shall offer a qualified interpreter [to LEP individuals] when oral interpretation is a reasonable step to provide meaningful access…”)

[4] See, for example, 45 CFR 92.201(e), restricting the use of minors and/or adults accompanying a patient as interpreters.

Recommended Posts