While the need to address disparities in care is well known, few strategies for reducing disparities have been studied systematically.
To screen all patients for their language needs in order to determine true demand for language services.
Why It’s Important:
Providing appropriate language services depends on a health care organization’s ability to accurately screen for language needs among its patients and to identify patients’ preferred language for health care encounters. The use of standardized practices to collect this information will provide the hospital with an accurate assessment of the need for interpreter services, translated materials and signage.
How To Do It:
Registration and scheduling staff are typically the first to communicate with incoming patients and have the first and most important opportunity for collecting patient language data. The following five steps emphasize the importance of coordinating with registration/scheduling in hospital settings and outpatient clinics:
1. Develop a relationship with registration/scheduling staff.
2. Give registration and scheduling staff the tools they need to screen for language needs.
Tip: Many hospitals struggle with whether to ask for preferred language versus primary language. Ideally hospitals should ask both questions of their patients and should keep in mind each question is designed to solicit different types of information. While primary language provides demographic information on a patient, such as the native language or language spoken at home, knowing the preferred language of a patient can help anticipate demand for language services. A patient’s primary language may not necessarily be the language that they prefer to receive their health care in. Additionally, a patient’s preferred language for oral communication may differ from their preferred language for written communication.
3. Work with registration/scheduling, information technology and leadership to develop policies and procedures around the collection of language needs data.
Tip: For organizations serving communities with distinct dialects (e.g., European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese), educating registration staff on these distinctions can help reduce error rates at registration/scheduling.
4. Evaluate and assess your organization’s language needs screening process.
Tip: The use of data is a powerful way to make change. Share this information with registration/scheduling staff and hospital leadership to illustrate how your organization’s screening process performs.
Tip: Assess barriers or reluctance toward screening for language needs through focus groups with registration/scheduling staff or by attending a registration/scheduling staff meeting. Improvements in screening are most likely to occur if these staff are involved in designing and testing new changes.
5. Develop strategies to improve the language needs screening process.
Tip: One hospital addresses differences in language preference between minors and their parents by also asking the preferred language of the caregiver.
Tip: Consider the following forums for getting your message across: regular meetings with the department head or entire registration department and regular internal communications (e.g., an internal newsletter).
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