What language is that? Using technology to communicate with non-English speaking patients
Imagine walking into an emergency department. You are sick or wounded, gravely enough to warrant a trip to the nearest hospital. You are scared, and likely not thinking as clearly as you would be in a non-emergent situation. Now imagine that no one in the ED speaks your language. You are seeking help, and yet you find yourself unable to even describe your condition. What would you do? Who could you turn to?
Unfortunately, that situation plays out every day in American hospitals. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. More than 22 million reported speaking English less than “very well”. (1) Considering that communication is the cornerstone of good medical care, it is alarming to think that such a significant portion of our population may not be able to communicate in a healthcare situation. Equally alarming is the strain limited English proficiency (LEP) patients put on the American healthcare system. Without the use of professional interpreters, the LEP population systematically sees higher readmission rates (2), a longer length of stay in hospitals (3), and uncoordinated, even unnecessary care. Professional interpreters can and do mitigate these adverse effects, but then the challenge becomes finding and connecting with professional interpreters – a problem hospitals across the nation are struggling to resolve efficiently.