As a healthcare provider, you likely work tirelessly every day to improve access to quality healthcare for Californians. But achieving this goal is not always easy - especially when language barriers hinder your ability to provide the proper treatment to your patients. Below is a look at some common language barriers facing the healthcare industry and the surest way to prevent them from having an adverse impact on your patients and your medical practice.
What are some common language-related barriers facing the healthcare industry?
California's aging population and marked increase in emergency room visits are just two of the factors that are contributing to the growth in the healthcare industry. At the same time, at least 220 languages are now spoken in California and a growing number of healthcare professionals are struggling to provide the proper care to patients due to language-related obstacles. Here are four of the most common language barriers facing California's healthcare industry:
1) Inability to complete or translate intake paperwork
Two of the most important documents for healthcare providers are the patient intake form and the patient consent form. Language barriers can cause two distinct types of problems that can delay urgently needed treatment or result in the inappropriate type of treatment being administered. These barriers are as follows:
- The intake paperwork is not available in the patient's native language and the patient is unable to understand English or other languages
- The patient completes the paperwork in his or her native language and there are no hospital staff who can interpret the information
2) Poor patient-provider communication
Patients view language barriers as a major obstacle to managing their health. Studies show that providers who treat immigrant patients are more likely to make decisions for those patients as opposed to communicating with them and involving them in the treatment process. This lack of communication between patients and providers can be detrimental to the treatment process.
3) Failure to understand treatment risks
Every patient deserves to have a clear understanding of their treatment options and the potential benefits and health risks associated with each of those options. Unfortunately, language barriers often prevent patients from understanding these risks and benefits.
4) Inadequate delivery of home health services
"Researchers at New York University found the adverse effects of language barriers are most pervasive in home healthcare settings where interpreter services are often limited and inconsistent, making communication between nurses and patients more difficult."
- Amy Wallace, United Press International (UPI)
The home healthcare market is projected to exceed $645 billion by 2025. And while this growth means that more people will be able to receive medical care in the comfort of their own homes, the potential for language barriers between care providers and patients can lead to problems. Here are the two main types of language barriers that can arise in the home health industry:
- 44% of Californians speak a language other than English at home. Finding care providers who speak those languages is not always easy.
- Problems can arise when English-speaking patients have difficulty communicating with care providers whose English skills are limited.
What are the consequences of ignoring language barriers?
Language barriers will not simply go away on their own. If you notice that the above problems are beginning to occur with greater frequency, you should address them immediately. Failure to take action can result in a variety of problems, including the three outlined below:
1) Incorrect diagnoses
When intake staff, nurses, and doctors are unable to understand a patient's presenting problems, they may miss out on key pieces of information that are required to accurately provide a diagnosis. For example, a patient experiencing vomiting and diarrhea may be incorrectly diagnosed with the flu as opposed to an e-coli infection due to a healthcare provider's inability to understand the patient's expressed concerns that tainted hamburger meat caused the problems.
2) Allergic reactions and drug interactions
When a language barrier prevents a doctor from understanding a new patient's drug allergies, there is a greater risk for the patient to suffer an allergic reaction from a prescribed medication. Patients are also more likely to experience a dangerous drug interaction because new providers may not realize they are already taking one or more drugs.
3) Psychological stress
"Language discrepancies may result in increased psychological stress and medically significant communication errors for already anxious patients, something to which patients in language-congruent encounters are less vulnerable."
- R. Meuter, C. Gallois, N. Segalowitz, A. Ryder and J. Hocking - Biomed Central Health Services Research
Many patients who arrive at a clinic, a hospital, or the emergency room are already experiencing stress because they are not feeling well. The absence of a healthcare provider who speaks the patient's native language can add to this stress and increase communication errors.
What should you do if you experience any of the challenges above?
If you ever encounter any of the challenges outlined above, the best thing to do is to seek the services of a professional interpreter or translator. While it may seem easy and tempting to "do your best" to understand the patient or to accept a patient's family member's offer to translate the patient's symptoms, these strategies should be avoided at all costs because they are common causes of medical errors.
California's most trusted provider of interpreting and translating services
Before enlisting the services of the first translating service you find online, it is important to do your homework. Make sure you choose a trusted language solutions provider with decades of experience working with California healthcare providers. Ideally, the provider you choose should offer rapid service and be able to provide onsite translating, document translating, and interpreting over the phone.
For nearly 30 years, Language Network has served California's healthcare community. Our team of professionals works tirelessly with patients and healthcare professionals to ensure that medical conditions are properly diagnosed and treatment risks are thoroughly explained. We offer translating and interpreting expertise with a wide variety of medical documents and scenarios, including the following:
- Hospital admission paperwork
- Healthcare consent forms
- Medical treatment plans
- Psychological tests and reports
- Annual health examinations
We strive to provide the highest quality language solutions to doctors, clinic managers, intake specialists, and the community at large. We invite you to contact us at Language Network today to discover how we can help your healthcare business thrive!