ULG's Language Services Blog

Improving HCAHPS Scores Through Language Services


What makes quality healthcare?

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or HCAHPS, looks to answer that very question, and has been used since 2006 to gauge patients’ perspective on the quality of their hospital visits.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administer the 32-question survey to random patients after discharge and then make the results available to the public.

These surveys focus on a number of different areas, and results can be affected by anything from hospital cleanliness to pain management. The efficacy of communication between hospital staff and patients is also part of the survey, accenting the role language access plays in the continuum of care.

Here we’ll briefly explore the survey itself and the role language access plays in its scores.


What Is The Survey?


The HCAHPS survey is given out to random patients after discharge from the hospital and focuses on:

  • Communication between doctors, nurses and patients
  • Responsiveness of hospital staff
  • Pain management
  • Hospital cleanliness
  • How informative and helpful hospital staff was during a patient’s stay.

The survey can be administered via mail, by phone, or sent by mail with a telephone follow-up or interactive voice response. Patients eligible to complete the survey must be 18 or older. The survey is sent between 48 hours and six weeks after discharge to a random sample of adults who had inpatient stays at a care center.

HCAHPS looks to create a national standard for care. Since the survey results are posted publicly, it also creates an incentive for hospitals to improve their processes and quality of care.

In addition, hospitals can lose or gain federal reimbursements based on their scores.


The Role Language Access Plays


Since questions relating to communication make up a good chunk of the survey, hospitals that don’t meet the needs of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients will likely receive low scores. Among the questions asked on the survey are:

  • How often did doctors listen carefully to you?
  • How often did doctors explain things in a way that you could understand?
  • How often did hospital staff tell you what the medicine was for? (If given medication)
  • How often did hospital staff describe possible side effects in a way you could understand?

By employing certified, trained medical linguists, hospitals can help improve overall care and their survey scores. Considering that roughly one in five people in the United States speak a language other than English at home, the need for language assistance in American hospitals is clear.

By employing experienced linguists well-versed in medical terminology, healthcare facilities can increase communication and patient safety. Those two goals, as opposed to federal reimbursements, should be the incentive.


Creating A Safer Environment For Patients


If patients feel their needs are met at the doctor, they’re more likely to go back. This increases the likelihood of better health outcomes.

LEP patients have been shown to receive sub-standard care compared to native English-speaking patients; they are also more prone to “adverse” medical events due to language barriers.

By offering effective translation and interpreting services, healthcare providers can improve patient care and create a more inclusive environment for non-native speakers.