Improving Patient Experience With Language Access

Patient experience is a vital part of the healthcare system in the United States. It includes not only interactions with members of a healthcare team, but also the ability to receive and understand information, make appointments, ask questions, and feel comfortable with the care and services received. A positive patient experience is just as important for healthcare facilities as it is for patients since those who have a positive experience will return for care, and those who have a negative experience will be more inclined to seek care elsewhere.

Non-English-speaking patients and their providers have an additional challenge when language access is lacking in a hospital or healthcare facility. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a proper language access plan (LAP), hospitals and clinics can improve patient care and benefit financially, too.

How Can Patient Experience Be Assessed?

One way to measure patient experience is through a questionnaire like the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey or the CAHPS (Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey. Both of these surveys include questions for patients about the quality of care received. The score a healthcare facility or hospital receives can affect the amount of reimbursements from private payers, Medicare, and Medicaid, which directly affects revenue, not to mention reputation.

A major component of patient experience is communication. In fact, it’s so important that nearly half of the HCAHPS survey questions are related to communication. This might seem surprising at first, but consider for a moment a simple doctor’s appointment. From start to finish, communication is key. Patients interact with multiple people and technology, from parking garage attendants to reception staff, to nurses, doctors, lab technicians, and others. Even wayfinding signage forms part of a patient’s experience.

When assessing patient experience, it is important to keep communication top of mind. Patients can be surveyed as a form of assessing their experience soon after an appointment to quickly gauge any glitches or gaps that need to be addressed.

How to Optimize Patient Experience With Language Access

The first step to improving patient experience with language access is to form and execute a language access plan. Next, it’s important to educate both medical and non-medical staff on ways to communicate appropriately with patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Here are some tips to improve communication and, thus, patient experience with language access.

  • Engage. Make eye contact with patients from the beginning of your interactions with them. Introduce yourself and others who join you in the appointment or hospital room. Express empathy for the patient’s experience, especially if they seem worried or anxious. Avoid rushing through the appointment whenever possible so the patient feels heard and understood. And be clear about when you’ll return to see the patient or if you will request that they return for a follow-up visit.

  • Repeat. Ask patients to repeat what you tell them about how to take a prescribed medicine, why they need it, when they should return for a follow-up, and any discharge instructions. Similarly, repeat important words back to patients so they hear them more than once. If something a patient tells you seems confusing, dive deeper by asking additional questions to work out any issues in communication. Even with a qualified and experienced interpreter, cultural components come into play in communication that may need further clarification. Repeating what the patient has told you can also be helpful to working out any complexities or issues that may arise.

  • Rely on professional language services. Whether a patient is admitted to the hospital or is simply attending a regular visit with a specialist, smooth and accurate communication can make all the difference in putting their mind at ease during what is otherwise a very vulnerable time for most. Having a professional interpreter present can improve the patient experience and keep providers more informed of an LEP patient’s symptoms, concerns, and any complications since their last visit. Including in-person and remote interpreting services, in addition to translating frequently used documents and forms, in your LAP can make all the difference. Family members and friends are not considered professional interpreters — they have not been trained in medical terminology and a patient may not want their medical information divulged to others they know — and using them to interpret for a patient is not recommended.

  • Follow through. At the time of discharge, it is important to communicate clearly about medications and what the LEP patient should expect in terms of any side effects or concerns. Ask whether the patient has a support system at home or if they will need assistance with at-home care, and inquire about who they might call in case of an emergency. Many times, LEP patients miss follow-up appointments due to a breakdown in communication or confusion about what happens next. Be sure to give them clear instructions about returning for their next appointment, especially if the location or provider will change.

  • Ask. It may seem like a small thing to ask someone how their experience was, but these days, service providers who care stand out to those who seek their services. Patients are willing to drive an extra 30 minutes or more to get to an appointment where they know their doctor will listen to them or provide them information in their primary language. This is also true of the post-appointment experience. Survey your patients to find out what their experience was and where you can make improvements. Do so in their primary language so they are more inclined to respond, and you will see your organization’s efforts pay off in a big way.

Language access not only affects the day-to-day interactions in your healthcare organization, but it also offers you insight into those you serve. The more you understand the patients in your community, the better you can reach them and keep them coming back to receive services. A positive patient experience is a positive experience for everyone involved.

Get Support From Those Who Provide Language Services for LEP Patients

It’s no secret that poor communication can lead to poor outcomes, especially in the medical field. When every word counts, you just can’t afford to get it wrong. It is possible to improve patient experience and simultaneously improve your healthcare organization’s survey scores, revenue, and reputation.

We’re here to help. For a free, no-obligation consultation on your language access plan, contact Pure Language Services today.

Get Assistance With Your Language Access Plan

For more information about how to create and implement a strong language access plan for your organization, download our free LAP guide.

Language access doesn’t have to be complicated.
We’re here to help you get it right.

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