ULG's Language Services Blog

How to Provide a Seamless Digital Healthcare Experience for Multilingual Consumers

Whether it’s through websites, apps, patient portals, SMS, or chat, healthcare consumers are demanding the same easy and user-friendly digital experiences they’ve grown accustomed to from retail, banking, and other industries. And research shows that non-native speakers, a large portion of U.S. users of healthcare services, are more likely to use options like online chat, text messaging with healthcare providers, and email when compared to native English speakers. 

However, efforts to provide multilingual digital health options have lagged behind for the estimated 68 million people with limited English proficiency (LEP), even though the U.S. diverse population continues to grow. 
For health plans, those seamless online experiences are critical since customer experience metrics now determine 57% of the overall Star ratings, the system used by Medicare to evaluate the quality and performance of health plans. Add this to the fact that the average Medicare Beneficiary has 43 Medicare Advantage plans to choose from, and it’s clear that providing consumers of all levels of English proficiency with convenient online options to manage their coverage and care is no longer negotiable.  

Healthcare organizations that tailor communications to their patients and members’ diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds demonstrate that their unique needs and experiences are understood, and that goes a long way in boosting trust, increasing engagement, enhancing the experience, and ultimately boosting health outcomes.  

How to Create a Culturally Relevant Digital Healthcare Experience 

Whether you’re launching a new digital experience or looking for ways to improve what you already have in place, here are some considerations ULG’s Director of Healthcare Accounts, Leslie Iburg, shared with us: 

1. Think beyond compliance to design a patient experience that advances strategic goals.  

Healthcare organizations that are launching efforts to improve the digital experience for multicultural populations shouldn’t do so to simply check a box or satisfy CMS compliance requirements alone.  

Rather, they should think about how these services will impact their overall long-term strategy, considering goals like increasing access, improving retention, and advancing health equity.  

For example, translating website service pages but not health education pages may meet the minimum standards, but it creates inequities for multilingual patients when it comes to managing their health. Failing to provide a mobile app prevents members who don’t have a computer from accessing the information they need and engaging with their providers. 

2. Fill in healthcare language services gaps to provide a consistent and smooth digital patient experience. 

Providing medical document translation and medical interpreting services is a necessary first step in providing language access, but they are not enough to provide the convenient, intuitive experience that today's consumers seek.  

Multilingual members and patients should have the same digital experiences as their English-speaking peers, yet oftentimes, that’s not the case. Instead, their experiences are highly fragmented, increasing the chances of frustration and miscommunication.  

For example, perhaps one channel is accessible in their native language, but others are not. A website might be translated into their preferred language but when they use the chat function, they’re not able to communicate because the customer service representative only speaks English.  

These communication barriers result in an experience that is neither patient-centered nor personalized. Not only are gaps likely to occur, but patient care and member loyalty can suffer. In fact, 66% of consumers say they will stop using a brand if their experience isn’t personalized, a 2023 report by Twilio found.  
Healthcare organizations must ensure a consistent, smooth, and inclusive experience at every touchpoint. Patients and members should be able to effortlessly navigate through services and benefits so they can easily access the information they need and understand the services and resources available to them. 

3. Identify language preferences and communication styles upfront. 

Every healthcare organization is gathering data about demographics, but race and ethnicity alone are not enough. Communication styles, preferences, and channels aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach and may differ depending on someone's preferred language, age, and health needs.  

Identifying and breaking down language barriers simplifies the entire experience, ensuring individuals can easily access, navigate, and utilize their care and benefits. 

The best place to start is to have an understanding of your audience’s language preferences, specific cultural drivers, and channel preferences (i.e. text, phone, video, and email)—all of which influence engagement. 

For example, 72% of patients say a bilingual patient portal would strengthen the patient-provider relationship and 77% say it would improve the quality of care, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found. 

4. Include the cultural considerations identified above in your digital experience.

Along with translation and interpretation, every digital experience should take into account cultural preferences and cultural intelligence, which includes beliefs and how diverse populations make healthcare decisions.  
Communications can be adapted to consider a population’s cultural background, practices, beliefs, and engagement preferences. Cultural adaptation improves comprehension, engagement, and, ultimately, patient outcomes as vital information is communicated more clearly. For example, ULG used a culturally adapted approach to help a major health insurer increase Health Risk Assessment completion rates in hard-to-reach populations by 23%. 

Healthcare organizations should also avoid making assumptions about how someone engages with the healthcare system. For example, while some Spanish-speaking patients may prefer a Spanish-speaking doctor, others may not. 

5. Translate medical terms consistently.  

Another area often overlooked is healthcare terminology in written content. Words may be technically translated correctly, but slight variations in word choice or different styles of translation can create confusion and a fragmented and negative experienceTherefore, healthcare terminology should be consistent in every channel and for every instance. To ensure that you translate medical terms the same way, use translation technology like glossaries and translation management systems and using linguists with health industry expertise 

6. Optimize your digital experience for multilingual users.  

Designing user experiences (UX) and user interfaces (UI) for multilingual platforms requires more than just translation. Best practices include using navigation symbols that are not specific to a particular language or culture, ensuring right-to-left text alignment for languages like Arabic, and incorporating culturally relevant colors and graphics. Culturally intelligent design not only enhances usability but significantly improves satisfaction among diverse user groups, making digital healthcare tools more accessible and effective. 

7. Consider accessibility and alternative formats.  

One of the priorities of CMS’ Health Equity Framework for 2022-2032 is to ensure that all individuals can access healthcare services when and where they need them in a way that is responsive to their needs and preferences. 
Healthcare organizations must think about LEP members who may also have disabilities, such as visual impairments, that can affect how they read or access information. 
Accessible options like large print, braille, and audio are also critical for CMS compliance. Online content, electronic documents, and website navigation elements may also need to be adjusted for people with visual, auditory, mobility, or other disabilities.  

To make sure everyone gets the help they need, these options should also be offered to any patient or member, whether or not they disclose an impairment. 

How ULG Can Support You in Integrating Digital Health Tools for Multilingual Consumers 

In the digital age of healthcare, delivering a smooth, optimized experience for diverse and multilingual populations is key to improving customer loyalty and health outcomes. A holistic approach that considers language, culture, and accessibility is needed to foster trust, engagement, and empowerment and to boost equity and quality of care.  

Our team of experts is here to help you implement the best mix of digital tools and translation approaches to enable healthcare organizations to create accessible, user-friendly experiences. We also provide culturally relevant communications at every touchpoint within the experience to help ensure consistency and connection and build trust with multilingual healthcare consumers.  

To learn more about ULG's healthcare translation services, contact us today.