When at least 20 percent of the nation speaks a language other than English, health systems need mHealth to bridge that barrier.

Healthcare providers are relying more and more on digital health tools to communicate with their patients.  That’s especially true when the patient doesn’t understand English.

At Chicago’s Advocate Health Care, five of the health system’s 10 hospitals have interpreters on-site, and those interpreters are trained in the most prevalent languages: Spanish, Arabic and – this being Chicago – Polish. But what of those patients who might speak Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Nepali or Korean?

Easy. The clinician on duty simply grabs an iPad or smartphone, accesses an app for video remote interpreting, and there’s a video feed with someone within minutes, usually seconds.

“It’s amazing, seeing their eyes light up when you have an interpreter right there (on the mobile device) that they can talk to face-to-face,” says Carolyn Hager, MBA, JD, CPHRM, Advocate Health’s director of language services, who uses two different video remote interpreting platforms to provide services in 24 different languages. “Sometimes people don’t understand how important that can be.”

Indeed, patient engagement is one of the trendiest topics in healthcare these days, and it goes far beyond boosting patient satisfaction rates or getting someone to buy into medication adherence. If patient and provider can’t even get past “hello,” it stands to reason that a clinician won’t be able to provide proper care and a patient won’t be able to react accordingly.

Challenges in dealing with patients who aren’t fluent in English are well-documented in healthcare circles, and sometimes prove to be fatal (imagine a patient misinterpreting a doctor’s instructions for post-discharge care). Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 21 percent of the nation’s residents speak a language other than English at home, and that percentage is only expected to grow.