Your medical practice may see hundreds or thousands of patients every month. But do all your patients speak English as their first language? Probably not.
As of the 2009-2013 census, "9 million report(ed) that they speak English ‘not at all’ or ‘not well’”, and one out of five people reported speaking a language other than English at home.
As a medical practice, it's up to you to serve all your patients with respect. But if you are unable to provide adequate service to multilingual or Limited English proficiency (LEP) patients, this may not be possible.
By implementing practices that accommodate LEP patients, you can increase patient trust, promote safer patient outcomes, improve your waiting room experience, and broaden the reach of your hospital or medical practice.
In this article, we’re going to review some of the positive effects your practice can enjoy by implementing multilingual accommodations in your office, and outline a few tips on how to do it!
According to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, “Language barriers can [also] contribute significantly to differences in patient satisfaction. Patient-provider language discordance may negatively influence patient experience, leading to the patient disclosing less information and feeling negatively judged, vulnerable, disrespected, and helpless.”
No matter what language your patients speak, the language of trust is universal. When you don't speak the same language as your patient, it can be difficult to build a trusting relationship if your patient feels unheard and misunderstood.
If your community has a strong presence of individuals that speak a particular language outside of English, it is worth considering hiring full or part-time physicians and staff members that are fluent in that language. This can help make patients feel comfortable, valuable, and build trust with your practice or hospital by improving their patient experience.
Limited English proficient patients are at a greater risk of injury during medical treatment, according to The Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They reported that these injuries “are more frequently caused by communication problems and more likely to result in serious harm compared to English-speaking patients.”
You are responsible for the safety of your patients. If you work with LEP patients and do not have staff that speaks their language of preference, it’s critical to hire certified medical interpreters to ensure that communication is as accurate as possible. It is also important to remember that a patient’s family member may not always be the best choice of an interpreter - your patient may feel less inclined to share all of their medical information, or you may not receive all relevant information due to conflicts of interest that may arise.
Before a medical appointment begins, your patients need to check in to the office by providing filled forms, insurance information, etc. When you have patients who don't speak English as a first language, this process can be simplified with multilingual patient check in options.
Step one is to make sure your patient forms are available in languages that are commonly spoken in your region. In some cases, a staff member may be able to translate your patient forms, but it’s best to hire a professional translation service to handle vital documents for LEP patients.
You can take this one step further by giving your patients the option to digitally check in to the office using the language of their choice. This gives your staff more time to focus on administrative tasks, and (if you do utilize interpreter services) allows your interpreters to focus on appointments, not patient check in.
Additionally, a multilingual self-service check in reduces language barriers that could lead to registration errors, reducing paperwork and potential headaches. In fact, we’ve found that solutions like mobile medical check in can reduce registration errors by up to 90%, even amongst patients who speak English as their first language.
Not only will your patients feel their needs have been accommodated, but you will also be able to enjoy the benefit of fewer errors and improved workflow.
The greater population your practice is able to adequately treat, communicate with, and build trust with, the more patients from diverse backgrounds will provide referrals, request return appointments, and support your business. While providing services for LEP patients is critical for safety and patient trust, it is also a great business decision to grow your patient base.
Above all, your medical practice exists to help people and patients. It may take a little bit of extra effort, but it is worth it to make all of your patients feel welcome and understood.
In summary, by providing solutions for multilingual or LEP patients such as interpreter services, making staffing decisions that favor multilingual candidates, and providing technical services that can improve the patient check in, you can create a better, safer patient and practice experience.
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