Virtual Care Continues to Grow Exponentially: How does language access fit in?

The pressure is mounting for healthcare organizations with increasing costs, changing regulations and the transition to value-based care. That’s one of the reasons virtual health has experienced such an explosion of growth throughout the past five years and more and more providers are turning to technology to meet patient needs.

Telehealth is bringing the agility of real-time technology to the industry, which means cost savings and flexibility for both patients and clinicians. This is heightened by reports that primary care physicians are experiencing burnout and many are leaving the profession. The American Association of Medical Colleges projects a shortage of as many as 40,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) within the next decade.

The ability to use virtual health to improve clinical effectiveness, enhance the patient experience and drive operating efficiencies is an attractive one. Recently, an Accenture analysis examined the economic value of virtual health uses in three care scenarios: an annual patient visit, ongoing patient management and self-care. According to Accenture’s findings, uses of virtual health in these three scenarios could generate an economic value of approximately $10 billion annually across the U.S. health system over the next few years. With its growing popularity, it’s also important to ensure telehealth is meeting the needs of all patients.

How are Telehealth Encounters Addressing Language Access Needs?

One in five people in the United States speak a language other than English at home and 41 percent of these individuals, or 25.1 million people, are considered limited English proficient (LEP). This is creating an increased demand for language access, which is also impacting telehealth encounters. As we implement more telehealth programs, it’s important to consider the needs of LEP, Deaf and hard of hearing patients (HOH) and prioritize language access needs with virtual encounters.

Healthcare organizations are required to provide access to care in a patient’s preferred language. If an organization receives Medicare, Medicaid or reimbursement from Federal health programs, they have a legal obligation to provide language access services to their patients. But above and beyond compliance, having a solid language access program can benefit healthcare organizations and patients in many other ways. It can reduce the risk of miscommunication and misdiagnosis, improve patient care and has the potential to increase efficiencies while decreasing costs.

The Role of VRI in Telehealth Encounters

Video remote interpreting (VRI) is one option that enables health systems to bring live, medically qualified interpreters into telehealth sessions. For example, A woman who just had knee surgery has questions about her medications, but Spanish is her native language and she struggles to communicate in English. When she schedules a telehealth conversation with her doctor she can also request that a Spanish interpreter be present through VRI. Or an elderly man who is deaf and has trouble leaving home for doctor visits is able to make a telehealth appointment and request that an ASL interpreter be in attendance. Immediate access to medically qualified interpreters is critical in improving patient care and meeting the increasing language access needs for LEP, Deaf and HOH patients for telehealth encounters.

How InDemand Supports Telehealth Encounters

With a vision to ensure every patient receives the highest quality healthcare, regardless of language, cultural background or disability, at InDemand we partner with healthcare organizations nationwide to bridge the communication gap between LEP, Deaf and hard of hearing patients and their clinicians. Using VRI, clinicians immediately connect to medically qualified interpreters in more than 200 languages, including American Sign Language (ASL) and Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDIs). InDemand can integrate with most telehealth platforms, making it possible for hundreds of health systems nationwide to add interpreting services to their telehealth programs.

As consumers are demanding technology advancements throughout other industries, the same is happening in healthcare. While we celebrate the flexibility and cost-savings this option delivers for both patients and providers, it’s important to also consider their language access needs and ensure we are providing options to add an interpreter to telehealth encounters.

I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and feedback. Reach out to me directly at czanetti@indemandinterpreting.com.

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