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The Stakes of Not Providing Language Services your Hospitals

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Imagine this scenario: A patient checks in to your hospital, but they don’t speak English. Not to worry, they have brought a family member with them to interpret. The interpretation isn’t perfect, but you end up getting by well enough on miming and hand-drawn notes to diagnose and treat the patient. Whew! Glad that’s over. You move on to the next patient.

With the number of patients that come into your hospital every day and for how busy your providers are, it may seem easy to let a small situation like this pass. But is it really worth the stakes? Today, we’ll talk about how important it is to use language services for all patients, and how dangerous it can be to ignore.

Increased risks of medical malpractice and negligence

Health care providers’ failure to make effective language assistance available is inextricably linked to issues of standard of care, negligence, and medical malpractice. If a patient does not understand medical information conveyed by health care professionals because of a language barrier, there could be no informed consent to a specific medical procedure. Without informed consent, providers could face significant liability for negligence and malpractice, plus monetary damages for national origin discrimination pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

You can learn more about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regards to language services here.

Increased fines and rates of readmission

Hospitals nationwide continue to face increased fines under a portion of the Affordable Care Act. If patients are readmitted – and LEP Patients tend to have higher rates of readmission – hospitals receive penalties if the rate surpasses a given threshold. Medicare can cut its already low-margin reimbursements by as much as 3%. The greater proportion of Medicare patients at a facility, the bigger the financial risk hospitals experience under the new system. In 2014, more than 2,600 facilities nationwide – out of roughly 3,500 eligible – failed to meet the Act’s criteria and will face stiff financial penalties.

You can read more about the Affordable Care Act and Limited English Proficient Populations here.

Hospitals can also receive fines for noncompliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for noncompliance with the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (the National CLAS Standards).

Learn more about increasing fines and regulations here.

Lower HCAHPS scores

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) Survey is the primary tool used to measure patient satisfaction in relation to ACA-based initiatives. Unfortunately, hospitals’ efforts to improve overall HCAHPS Survey scores are often less successful with LEP patient populations and, conversely, service improvements for LEP patients often aren’t reflected in improved HCAHPS scores due to low survey response rates.

You can read more about HCAHPS Surveys and Limited English Proficient Patients in our white paper here.

Joint Commission Non-Compliance

Hospitals with Joint Commission accreditation, and those seeking accreditation, will be scrutinized regarding their language services programs and processes for working with Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients throughout the provision of care.

View our Joint Commission Checklist for more information here.

American with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Noncompliance

Providing a qualified ASL interpreter in order to ensure effective communication with people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing is something that is required by the Americans with Disability Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. When a qualified interpreter is not used for medical interpreting, this put the patient as well as the hospital at risk. Miscommunication can lead to mistakes in patient health and safety.

Read more about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing issues through Victor Collazo’s blog posts here.

Is Your Healthcare Facility Compliant?

As you can see, providing language services is essential to avoiding a host of major problems. Is your hospital or healthcare facility providing sufficient language services to avoid all of these problems? If you’re not sure, check out ourRFP Guide, which helps you know what questions to ask language service providers before you sign up.

Curious how interpretation services affect CMS quality ratings? See our new whitepaper.  Download Now