Does a Video-Interpreting Network Improve Delivery of Care in the Emergency Department?

Any health care organization receiving federal funds must provide interpreter services to people with limited English proficiency. Most interpreting in health care has been provided by face-to-face and telephonic interpreters. A new means of interpreting using video and the Internet—available 24 hours a day and within minutes of requesting—seems to offer efficiencies over the other two methods.

Researchers sought to evaluate video interpreting by comparing provision of care in two California public hospitals before and after implementation of video-network services. They looked at the number of tests ordered, mean time in the emergency department (ED) and admission rates for English-speakers and Spanish-speakers presenting in the ED with abdominal or chest pain.

Mean time in the ED for both language groups at both hospitals went down after the video network was implemented. The mean number of tests also fell for both groups at both hospitals. The percentage of ED patients admitted declined for both language groups at one hospital and was unchanged at the other.

Overall, the researchers were unable to show a statistically significant impact of video interpreting on care in the ED, perhaps, they write, because their outcome measures were not as dependent on communication as they had hypothesized.