Improving Patient Outcomes With Language Access

Patient outcomes are a key area of healthcare that is often measured to determine the quality of care and patients’ adherence to care instructions. However, communication is a major factor in ensuring improved patient outcomes. This is especially true when working with patient populations with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

Going to the doctor can be stressful, even when language barriers are absent. Patients must find their way to the correct location earlier than their scheduled appointment time. They have concerns about their health, questions for their care team, and may be worried about any news they might receive during the visit. Add to this stress a language barrier, and the LEP patient experience can be daunting.

With improved communication, your organization can ease the stress patients with LEP feel when attending doctor visits and improve patient outcomes.

How Does Better Communication Affect Patient Outcomes?

Communication plays a significant role in several areas that determine patient outcomes. At the most basic level, clear and precise communication in healthcare is a must. Without it, the consequences could be harmful to patients’ health, or even deadly. When your organization communicates consistently and clearly, you can expect improvements in the following areas.

Adherence to health plans and medications

When patients understand concepts about their health, they are more likely to adhere to their health plans and take their medications as prescribed. On the other hand, if a patient is confused about what their physician has told them to do, they are less likely to follow the instructions given to them, which can lead to poor health outcomes. Moreover, a lack of adherence to a health plan or protocol may create frustration between a provider and patient, resulting in a lack of trust or a less-than-ideal patient experience.

Decrease in the number of missed appointments

Communicating effectively with patients about their health plans can also decrease the number of missed appointments. If a patient does not have clear instructions about upcoming appointments, like where to go, how early to arrive, and how they should prepare (bringing a list of medications with them, getting additional labwork done, taking any steps before the appointment, etc.), they are more likely to miss the appointment or arrive too late to be seen by a provider. This can mean a delay in much-needed care for the patient and a negative effect on their health.

Patient self-advocacy 

Patients who feel comfortable communicating with a provider will be confident in speaking openly about their health and asking questions when they have concerns. The ability to self-advocate not only gives patients more agency in their own care but also contributes to a positive relationship with their care team. Patients who can communicate clearly and easily with their providers feel more comfortable with them and experience improved outcomes.

Costs Savings for the organization

Strong communication can also mean fewer expenses and less waste of resources that could otherwise be used in other ways. Patients who do not receive information clearly in their language are more likely to need additional care, thus decreasing their satisfaction and increasing healthcare-related costs. A lack of clear communication can also create extra work for staff and providers, which impacts an organization’s bottom line. Put simply, improving communication across languages saves money.

Better health outcomes in general

When patients understand their care, they tend to have better health outcomes. Language barriers have long been linked to health disparities. Therefore, communicating consistently in patients’ primary language about their healthcare plans and care is vital and can lead to a better overall result. 

How Can Language Access Improve Patient Outcomes?

A review of more than 30 studies found that most patients reported better outcomes when they spoke the same language as their healthcare provider. However, many times, it isn’t possible to place a patient with a provider who speaks their language. That’s where language access comes in — the provision of language services for patients with limited English proficiency.

When patients can communicate effectively and accurately in their preferred language, they not only better understand their health and what their care team recommends, but they also have the ability to take a more active role in their own healthcare. Adherence to medications and care plans improves, readmittance rates drop, and the patient experience is enhanced.

What Steps Need to Be in Place to Improve LEP Patient Outcomes Through Communication?

Every healthcare system aims to treat patients with high-quality care and promote better health outcomes. Language access must be part of the overall plan to achieve this. We recommend three important steps to improve outcomes for patients with LEP.

  1. Start by implementing a language access plan. Even if you still need to figure out various parts of your plan, knowing that your plan is coming together and working through the steps to implement a plan for your unique organization will be helpful to everyone interacting with patients who speak other languages.

  2. Secure the resources your organization will need to fulfill the access part of your plan. Work with a local agency that specializes in healthcare to ensure your patients have the best professional on-site and remote language services you can provide.

  3. Determine how you will measure success regarding patient outcomes within your organization, and expect to improve your plan as needed.

By taking these steps, your organization will be ready to address issues resulting from language barriers affecting your area’s LEP populations. 

For a no-obligation consultation on implementing your language access plan, contact us or download our Practical Guide to Creating a Language Access Plan today.

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

Interested in how we can help you and your team?