Using technology to speak the same language
In health care, where communication and trust between patient and clinician is vital, language barriers can lead to serious consequences.
The number of non-English speakers in the United States is growing, and language barriers are opening the door for medication errors, inaccurate assessments and, in some cases, serious harm. In fact, an analysis of adverse incidents in hospitals revealed a stark contrast in physical harm suffered by non-English speaking patients compared to those who spoke English—49 percent versus less than 30.
Today, one in 10 working-age adults is considered Limited English Proficient (LEP), and populationwide, there are nearly 20 million individuals whose proficiency is limited. Language barriers decrease the satisfaction of both the clinician and patient, as well as reduce the quality of health care delivery and patient safety.
“When language barriers exist, the risk of incorrect diagnosis, duplicative testing and inappropriate prescribing increases,” said Dr. Demetria Malloy, Anthem Blue Cross Medical Director. “Language barriers may make individuals less likely to seek care or build trusting relationships with their doctors. This can cause them to be less likely to adhere to treatment programs.”
To help clinicians overcome these barriers and ultimately improve service and increase efficiencies, Anthem Blue Cross placed 240 digital kiosks at 110 health centers across California.
The initiative, which launched early this year, brings on-demand interpretation services for more than 240 languages directly into the clinic. The mobile kiosks include Wi-Fi enabled tablets with direct access to certified interpreters. Clinicians no longer have to preschedule an in-person interpreter or rely on a third-party call center to interpret during patient visits.
Technology is increasingly used to close gaps in care and alleviate access issues, but its use has also shined a light on health inequities that have long persisted in underserved communities.
Besides offering critical interpretation services, the digital kiosks are also bridging the gap in care by offering access to specialty telehealth appointments, video conferencing, insurance benefit information and access to community resources.
The project was designed by Anthem Blue Cross specifically for this use, but the COVID-19 health crisis has amplified the importance of services that better meet the needs of all patients, particularly those with diverse needs. The company plans to install hundreds more of the digital kiosks throughout the state.