Diagnosing the world: How telehealth can help

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David Thompson, MD, CHC, FACEP, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Medical Officer, Health Navigator

“Fever” may sound different in other languages, but it means the same thing. Whether a patient says fever, fiebre, or fièvre, they are talking about the same thing and are looking for diagnosis or treatment.

Language differences can add complexity to an already confusing situation for patients. Fortunately, healthcare professionals can help bridge this gap through the use of telehealth as a convenient and flexible healthcare option.

Language localization

So, how can healthcare systems reach out to the broadest patient base possible while offering telehealth options that benefit everyone? One answer is offering a diagnostic telehealth platform in multiple languages. This language translation supports providers by delivering an expanded script for identifying patient problems. It also makes it easier for non-English speaking consumers to use e-Health tools and applications, and ensures greater accuracy when they do use virtual care.

The most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) found that 89 million Americans alone have limited health literacy, and it’s fair to say that a significant percentage of those have English as a second language or no English at all. This highlights the need for global health literacy guidelines and health care options for all languages. Consider the following reasons to offer multilingual telehealth options.

Improve patient engagement

By using a multilingual telehealth platform, clinicians can help patients of all language backgrounds – even if they, themselves, don’t speak the language. In addition, more tech-savvy patients can choose their language preference when using e-Health applications. The simple ability to communicate health information in their preferred language can improve patient engagement and satisfaction by:

  • Providing easy-to-understand information;
  • Making patients feel like they’ve received customized, personal attention;
  • Offering flexibility for individual situations; and
  • Giving patients control over their healthcare, regardless of language.

The bonus – Health systems using flexible telehealth platforms can also see improved retention due to patient engagement and satisfaction.

Support communication along the care continuum

Not only can telehealth technology offer engagement solutions, but it also has the benefit of connecting providers and patients along the care continuum. Your patients will see health information in their preferred language, while the telehealth platform provides coding of inputted data and translates it into medical terminology. This data can then be shared among medical call center nurses, telemedicine providers, hospitals and primary care providers. There’s never a need for patients to feel like they have less access to quality care because of language barriers.

With advancements in translation technology and diagnostic platforms, the future of healthcare will be measured by how well organizations and providers: appeal to a broad patient audience, capture health information; share data with other providers; and leverage that data to improve medical care, speed up care delivery and reduce costs.

Consider the case of John Gomez, a 22-year old, whose primary language is Spanish. John has had knee pain for two days and contacts a telemedicine provider.

Step 1: The initial call

John calls a service representative who works with his doctor. This service representative does not speak Spanish but directs questions using a diagnostic engine that offers symptom options for “knee pain” in Spanish. The representative then obtains John’s demographic information, transcribes his chief complaint and helps him complete an online “rapid medical history” for knee pain. The telehealth platform lists recommended care options based on John’s symptoms, his availability and doctor preferences. The service representative then arranges a telemedicine encounter.

Step 2: The telemedicine encounter

John can speak with a Spanish-speaking doctor or an English-speaking doctor because his information has been transcribed and coded as data in medical terminology. The doctor reviews the medical history, validates the information during the telemedicine encounter and provides treatment recommendations.

Step 3: Follow-up

A nurse in a centralized call center contacts John in two days to make sure he is following treatment recommendations, getting better and has no further questions.

Reach patients nationally and globally

While it’s possible to reach a broad range of patients nationally through multilingual telehealth platforms, health systems all around the world can provide better care with these capabilities. Because the world has become a melting pot of language and culture, health systems will increasingly provide telehealth services, which will help them realize maximum patient satisfaction and retention.

Indeed, healthcare is confusing, but patients around the world are increasingly becoming more actively involved in their care. As healthcare and technology continue to evolve, healthcare systems and providers must also adapt to serve a broad patient base with even broader needs.

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