In Company News & Events, Interpreting


Which of the following medical facilities must offer language services to Limited English Proficient patients?

A. A family doctor’s office in rural Wyoming.

B. A large hospital system in an urban area in California.

C. A physical therapy clinic in a suburban area in Maine.

D. A major pharmacy chain doing business across the U.S.

If you thought “all of the above,” you would be correct!*

New Focus on Language Access Compliance

Just a few years ago, a lot of folks in the healthcare industry thought of language services, like medical interpreting, as a “hospital thing.” Many local doctor’s offices, physician groups, rural facilities, and ancillary service facilities just didn’t consider language services as a need. But when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services passed the “Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities” regulations (implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act), the requirement for language services in all facets of healthcare was thrust to the forefront.

Cost Concerns

For those facilities that had never offered language services before, there was sometimes a bit of sticker shock. Medicare, medicaid, and private health insurance generally doesn’t cover language services. Especially in rural areas, many healthcare facilities face narrow and even negative operating margins, leaving little room to pay for language services. With resorting to unqualified bilingual staff and/or bilingual family members flatly prohibited by the Section 1557 Regulations, these healthcare facilities need a cost-effective way to ensure effective communication.

On-site interpreting (“OSI”), which involves an in-person interpreter on site with the patient to facilitate communication, is an amazing and powerful tool. In fact, OSI is essential for lengthy and/or complex medical conversations. But in any given region, there are only so many professional medical interpreters available – and they are in high demand! Thus, like any other personal service, there are some limitations to using OSI:

  • Must be pre-scheduled;
  • Subject to usage minimums, e.g. one or two-hour minimum per appointment;
  • Priced in 10, 15 or 30-minute increments after initial minimum;
  • Limited resources available; and
  • Availability affected by outside factors like weather and traffic.

In fact, our experience shows that on-site interpreters typically only interpret for 30 to 45 minutes of that first hour. This means that medical facilities are paying unused time. Ineffective utilization, cost concerns, and resource limitations leave healthcare facilities needing another option.

Video Remote Interpreting

Much like the need for language services overall, many rural, smaller or ancillary service facilties might think of VRI as something only used by hospitals. But that’s not really the case.

VRI capitalizes on modern technology that pretty much every facility already has. Think of it as HIPAA-compliant, secure Skype/Facetime with a professional, medical interpreter.  All it takes is a computer, tablet or smart phone with a webcam, speakers and microphone and a reliable internet connection. With these items already on hand, just about every medical facility has the resources to create an instant VRI station – no capital investment needed.

Beyond the fact that no capital investment is typically needed, VRI comes with several other cost-efficiencies and time-saving benefits:

  • Available on-demand without pre-scheduling for most languages;
  • Pulls from a broad talent pool not limited by geography;
  • Typically billed by the minute with no minimum usage;
  • Unaffected by weather, traffic, and other unexpected events.

With the use of VRI, all facilities – large or small, urban or rural – have access to an interpreter at a click of a mouse. This can be especially useful for those unexpected drop-ins/emergencies and those times when a physician gets behind in his or her schedule.

Vocalink Global’s VRI solution offers both computer-based and table/smart phone app-based access to professional medical interpreters in dozens of languages. Want to learn more? Connect with us today!

*Assuming that each accepts federal funds in any one of the many, many ways most medical facilities accept federal funds, such as accepting Medicare/Medicaid patients.

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