Speaking Together: National Language Services Network

An RWJF National Program

Field of Work: Improving language services in hospitals

Problem Synopsis: One in six Americans speaks a language other than English at home. More than 20 million people across the country speak or understand little, if any, English.

The inability to communicate has particularly significant implications in the health care environment, where even communication between providers and patients who speak the same language can be difficult.

Synopsis of the Work: Speaking Together: National Language Services Network, launched in 2005, was the first Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) national program to improve the delivery of language services to patients with limited English proficiency using standardized performance improvement measures and a quality improvement framework.

Ten hospitals throughout the country joined a collaborative learning network, developed strategies to improve the quality and accessibility of their language services, and tested them using five standardized performance improvement measures.

Key Results: Overall, participating hospitals improved on all five language services measures, with increases in the percent of:

  • Patients who were screened to determine their preferred language
  • Patients who received language services from those qualified to provide them
  • Encounters in which patients waited less than 15 minutes for an interpreter
  • Time interpreters provided medical interpretation, as a percent of their total work time
  • Encounters in which interpreters waited 10 minutes or less to provide services

National program staff and participating hospitals developed multiple tools and resources to spread tested strategies and the lessons learned from Speaking Together, including a toolkit, journal articles, issue briefs and reports, videos, and a Web site.

In 19 focus groups conducted at hospitals participating in Speaking Together, the majority of limited- and non-English-proficient patients reported positive experiences with language services.

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