ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

5 Steps to Developing a Language Access Plan for Your Healthcare Organization

In the United States today, 46 million people speak a primary language other than English. In order for medical staff to effectively communicate with all of their patients from linguistically diverse backgrounds, the hospital or clinic must have a language access plan in place. A language access plan ensures that non-English speakers and/or people who have hearing or visual impairments have the tools they need to communicate with medical professionals, administration, and other patients. 

By implementing a robust language access plan that includes translation, interpretation and transliteration, health organizations empower their providers to address the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their limited English proficiency (LEP) populations.  

To take things one step further, the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) has issued a set of protocols (stratification requirements) to acutely address and reduce the disparities in healthcare on the basis of race and ethnicity. Comprehensive translation and interpretation services for LEP patients is one of the most effective strategies to meet this set of requirements. In doing so, organizations can drive down readmission rates and eliminate the risk of:

  • Misdiagnosis.
  • Poor patient outcomes.
  • Low satisfaction and retention rates.
  • Elevated mortality rates.

1. Assess your healthcare organization’s needs.

The first step to developing a successful language access plan is to assess the linguistic demographics of your community. What is the linguistic makeup of the patients you serve? Do you need to implement translation and interpretation services to better meet the needs of all of your patients? 

Language translation and interpretation rely on expertise and cultural awareness to deliver clear messaging to non-English speaking patients. As you develop a language access plan, ensure that your interpreters are capable of both. 

For example, if you are a hospital who serves a large Haitian population, French translation may suffice, but overlaying Creole helps ensure cultural relevance for patients. 

2. Outline comprehensive communication services.

Based on your initial research, you can create a comprehensive list of the communication services you hope to provide through your language access plan. Things to keep in mind: 

  • the number of languages you must support.
  • the systems you’ll create to schedule language solutions (on-demand, by request pre-determined). 
  • and the review policies you’ll put in place to ensure accuracy. 

ULG offers healthcare organizations a variety of translation and interpretation services to choose from. In the case of translation, the solution you choose depends on the types of materials that must be translated for the patient, including consent forms, medication instructions, discharge papers, etc. 

When it comes to interpretation, you also have many avenues for your health organization to explore. The most common interpretation services for the health care providers we work with include: 

  • On-site (OSI)
  • Over-the-phone interpreting (OPI)

As more providers have turned to telehealth services over the past two years, healthcare organizations can incorporate additional interpretation solutions into a virtual care setting. This includes VRI technology and RSI technology, which both provide face-to-face interaction and access to remote interpreters.

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3. Promote your multilingual services.

Once you have interpretation solutions in place, devise a campaign strategy to promote the available services. Keep in mind that multilingual speakers are not necessarily literate in every language they speak, so any announcements about translation and interpretation services should span media and format: 

  • Audible announcements.
  • Multilingual posters.
  • ID badges identifying which staff members speak what languages. 

Be sure to specify which languages are available at what times and how patients can schedule linguistic services outside of routine appointments. 

Healthcare providers should be just as well-versed about the language services their hospital offers as the patients who use them. So we recommend organization-wide communications about your interpretation and translation services across departments. 

4. Provide training.

When instituting a language access plan of any size, healthcare organizations must train their staff during an integration period. 

Initially, patient-facing staff (medical providers, specialists, front desk receptionists, and so forth) must be trained on the scope of language assistance services the hospital provides and the assistive technology available to patients. Staff should all attend workshops and trainings aimed at building cultural competency and LEP awareness in healthcare settings. While early training is needed, honing communication skills with LEPs and patients with visual and hearing impairments must be ongoing, collaborative, and constructive. 

5. Conduct evaluations.

Once you’ve put new language access processes in place, set up a timeline in which you can regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the holistic care patients receive. Conduct tests and screening to simulate the experience of non-English speaking patients, patients with visual and/or hearing impairments, and  LEP patients. Then, score healthcare staff on their ability to provide services and communicate effectively. Finally, re-evaluate compliance measures in accordance with the:

Choose an effective language solutions partner. 

Need help getting started? United Language Group (ULG) supports health equity through translation, interpretation, and transliteration services for LEP patients and visual and/or hearing patients throughout their healthcare journey. In addition, we provide comprehensive language access audits for healthcare organizations. ULG’s teams are proficient in more than 200 languages and offer evidence-based solutions to increase effective communication between patients and healthcare providers, decreasing adverse medical outcomes. 

Learn how to stay compliant with the U.S. medical interpretation mandates in this e-book. >>