Language Barriers in Hospitals in the U.S.

More than three hundred languages are spoken in the United States currently

According to the U.S. Bureau of statistics, more than three hundred languages are spoken in the United States currently (Chen, Youdelman, & Brooks, 2007). More than twenty-one percent of U.S. population aged five and above speak other languages other than English at home. Among these, more than 24 million of them do not speak proper English and fall under the Limited English proficient (LEP) category (Clarke & Isphording, 2016).  As a result, there have been challenges in the health care system in the provision of patient-centered quality care for the non-English speaking and LEP individuals in America.

Medical miscommunication has severe consequences. For instance, people become sicker as they fail to adequately adhere to treatment regimens because they do not understand English (Karliner et al., 2012). These patients regularly miss their appointments and keep feeling ill because they do not know when to take their medications or follow-up. On the other hand, health professionals may misdiagnose or order too many tests that can be potentially risky for the patient. LEP patients tend to avoid health care because of language barriers.

Understanding the importance of language in creating barriers to health care is crucial in enhancing quality care. Hospitals, health plans, clinics, nursing homes, physicians and other providers must offer “qualified interpreters” to Limited English Proficient patients. The major problem in the language access field is that too often, providers attempt to “get by” without the use of trained interpreters when treating LEP patients. Despite a strong consensus in the academic and research communities about the quality and safety risks of using untrained bilingual staff, adult family members and friends and minor children as interpreters, even today a majority of providers throughout the U.S. continue to use untrained interpreters even when qualified interpreters are readily available in person or remotely via telephone or video remote devices.

The federal and state laws in the States provide a framework that guarantees provision of healthcare to LEP individuals by providing interpreters who assist the healthcare providers in communicating with the individuals.

Language differences create communication barriers, it also affects one’s understanding of words or sentences and puts in jeopardy the treatment and wellbeing of any LEP patient.

This challenge is faced by almost every hospital as not all of them hire professionally trained or nationally certified interpreters. Studies have established that LEP patients’ health is positively impacted in healthcare facilities where Professional Medical Interpretationservices are offered (Chen, Youdelman, & Brooks, 2007).

With the number of LEP increasing, the need for medical interpreters and translators is becoming fundamentally vital.

According to a presentation on “The Effect of Professional Interpretation on Inpatient Length of Stay and Readmission Rates”, when not provided with a qualified translator, LEP patients are likely to suffer adverse medical events twice as high than the English speaking patients. Their average stay in hospital is 0.17 to 1.47 days longer than those proficient in English. (Mary Lindholm, MD. et al.)

Develop a Legendary Language Service Plan:

Language barriers tend to increase the risks to patient safety and reduce effective patient outcomes (Clarke & Isphording, 2016).

Thanks for reading, I hope you find this information useful for this 2019. Do not hesitate in contacting me directly if you have further questions regarding creating a language service plan for your facility.



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Provide high quality and dynamic language solutions to organizations in the medical field to help them achieve a fluid communication and better connection with their patients while understanding the unique needs, realities and barriers of the diverse communities.

We are projecting One Voice Medical Interpreters as one of the leading interpreting companies in the United States in the next 8 years, delivering a service that embraces the impact of effective cross-cultural communication skills to serve as a liaison between communities and healthcare professionals.

Commitment – Committing to great client service, and other initiatives that impact lives within and outside the company.

Community –Contributing to society and demonstrating corporate social responsibility.

Diversity – Respecting the diversity and promoting equality and the empowerment of limited-English-proficient communities.

Empowerment – Encouraging employees to take initiative and give the best, enhancing their professional skills and opportunities and promoting education and accreditation in the needed field.

Innovation – Pursuing creative ideas and the use of new technologies that have the potential to improve processes in the interpreting field.

Integrity – Acting with honesty and honor without compromising the truth in every action every day.

  • The interpreter treats as confidential all information learned in the performance of his/her professional duties.
  • The interpreter strives to convey the message accurately taking into consideration its cultural context.
  •  The interpreter maintains impartiality and refrains from counseling or projecting personal biases or beliefs.
  •  The interpreter continuously strives to develop awareness of his/her own and other cultures encountered in the performance of their professional duties and strives to continually further his/her knowledge and skills
  •  When the patient’s health, well-being, or dignity is at risk, the interpreter may be justified in acting as an advocate. Advocacy is understood as an action taken on behalf of an individual that goes beyond facilitating communication, with the intention of supporting good health outcomes
  • The interpreter must at all times act in a professional and ethical manner treating all parties with respect.

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