Language Access and the Law: The Business Case for Language Access


Healthcare organizations are constantly evolving, adapting to meet the needs of their patients, their staff members, and payer sources. These changes hardly come easily, and each paradigm shift requires strong leaders equipped with cutting-edge technology to make it happen. One major shift happening now is language inclusivity throughout healthcare organizations around the country. The number of Americans who speak a language other than English at home has increased by 140 percent over the past three decades, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

What does this language diversity mean for healthcare organizations in large cities and in rural areas? In order for healthcare providers to best serve their diverse patients, quick and easy access to medically qualified interpreters is crucial. Language access has become even more important to patient care, patient satisfaction, positive business outcomes, and law considerations. There is certainly a business case to be made for language access in all healthcare organizations; making language-inclusive decisions can positively affect patient care, the bottom line, and compliance regulations.

Language Access for Patient Care

Between 12 million and 23 million Americans are limited English proficient, or LEP, meaning they speak English less than very well. When these LEP patients come into a hospital, acute-care center, or medical office, they are already at a disadvantage for communicating their needs and concerns. Without appropriate access to medically qualified interpreters, these at-risk patients are more vulnerable to treatment delays, a missed diagnosis, ineffective treatment, or poor follow-up care.

In fact, LEP patients are at a higher risk for a variety of complications during, and after, hospital visits. For example, a study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing noted LEP patients had a 29.1% higher infection rate than their English speaking peers. This increased infection rate is likely tied to longer hospital stays due to poor communication and diagnoses. Communication problems are proven to be among the root causes of 59% of serious adverse events as well. However,  the issues don’t stop in the hospital; LEP patients are also more likely to be readmitted within 30 days of discharge, according to the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Language Access for Patient Satisfaction

The patient experience is a key indicator for more than just the care given in a healthcare setting. Thanks to tools such as the HCAHPS, healthcare executives and board members are able to see if patients were satisfied with their experience. Positive experiences lead to high scores, which can directly affect insurance reimbursement. Simply put, satisfied patients can lead to a healthier bottom line.

Language access and positive communication are components of tools like the HCAHPS. LEP patients are far more likely to report positive satisfaction if they are given access to medically qualified interpreters who speak their language of choice.

Language Access for Positive Business Outcomes

Investing in technology that provides access to medically qualified interpreters significantly pays off in other areas of the budget. For example, LEP patients are more likely to be readmitted than native English-speaking patients. Further, physicians are more likely to order additional tests and procedures for LEP patients if they are unable to communicate well enough to find out what is wrong. These additional tests and readmissions would often be unnecessary if LEP patients were given immediate access to a medically qualified interpreter who could translate their concerns, their medical history, and any challenges to physicians on staff.

Beyond added costs of superfluous tests, language access can also lead to improved market share. Research indicates LEP patients are more likely to choose a doctor or hospital based on access to language services. With 26 percent of new ACA-insured patients being LEP, language-inclusive organizations and practices are more likely to get that new business.

Language Access Law Considerations

Finally, language access law has already changed to promote language inclusivity and increase patient safety. Legal claims of neglect or malpractice can quickly happen if LEP patients are not given access to medically qualified interpreters. If these vulnerable patients do not have the chance to communicate their needs, and if they do not have the help to interpret complex discharge or follow-up plans, LEP patients are more likely to have serious problems while in the hospital or after being discharged. Medical malpractice insurers will not cover cases in which language access laws were violated.

Currently, language access services are federally mandated. Further, using unqualified interpreters can be considered a violation of HIPAA laws. These are serious violations that not only can make for a poor patient experience but also can put the LEP patient at serious risk as well as increase liability for the healthcare organization.

Language inclusivity is not just the law or a best practice. It is a crucial part of patient care and safety, especially for LEP patients. Thanks to video remote interpreting, healthcare organizations in booming cities, and in rural communities, can give their patients immediate access to medically qualified interpreters who can guide them through their healthcare experience. Learn more about language access by downloading our white paper, Language Access Plan Basics.

Contact us at InDemand Interpreting to learn more about how our VRI technology can increase patient safety, overall satisfaction, and even your organization’s bottom line. You can experience our services yourself, with a demo of our varied interpreting experiences, so that you can see and hear what your patients will. Make a commitment to language inclusivity today and reinforce your organization’s culture of excellent patient care, regulatory compliance, and overall experience.

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