Patient Safety: How Language Access Reduces Risk of Patient Harm 

Patient Safety: How Language Access Reduces the Risk of Patient Harm | Telelanguage

Healthcare language services - certified medical interpretersCommunication is vital part of patient safety. As hospitals and health care systems around the country address and prioritize patient safety in health care, it’s important to look at how language and communication impact over 8% of United States residents who are limited English proficient (LEP).

About 21% of United States residents do not have a high level of English proficiency, and 1 in 11 speak English “less than very well.” Trained medical interpreters provide necessary communication between health care professionals and LEP patients that increases the quality of patient care.

In this post, we’ll go over top LEP patient safety concerns for hospitals and healthcare organizations, and how medical interpretation supports patient safety in health care settings.

The Negative Impact of Miscommunication on Patient Safety

Image Source: The Joint Commission Sentinel Event
Statistics, 2014.

  1. According to The Joint Commission’s Sentinel event statistics released for 2014, miscommunication is the third most frequently identified root cause of sentinel events. 21% of sentinel events are caused by miscommunication.

  3. 9% of the United States population is at risk for an adverse patient safety event as the result of a language discrepancy. Research suggests that LEP patients are more frequently affected by adverse events that are often caused by communication problems and that these adverse events are more likely to result in serious harm for LEP patients than English-speaking patients.

  5. Studies show that LEP patients experience higher rates of physical harm from adverse events. About 49.1% of limited English proficient patient adverse events involved some physical harm whereas only 29.5% of adverse events for patients who speak English resulted in physical harm. A pilot study examining the differences in the characteristics of adverse events between English speaking patients and patients with limited English proficiency in US hospitals also found that adverse events that occurred to limited English proficient patients were also more likely to be the result of communication errors.


The Cost of Miscommunication Errors to Health Care Systems

Section 3025 of the Affordable Care Act added section 1886(q) to the Social Security Act establishing the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which requires CMS to reduce payments to IPPS hospitals with excess readmissions.

The impact of poor communication can result in higher rates of hospital readmissions, which can result in penalties, loss of funding, and negatively impact hospital ratings. In 2015, Medicare fined a record 2,610 hospitals with readmission penalties. Hospital readmission rates can be a financial risk for health care systems, who may receive penalties for excessive readmission rates. Readmission rates can significantly impact hospital CMS ratings.

When patient safety is compromised by not providing culturally competent care such as professional language services, these patient safety events can result in medical malpractice lawsuits. Nearly one-third of national medical malpractice complaints involve some form of communication failure, according to the report “Malpractice Risks in Communication Failures” from CRICO. Out of 7,149 cases reviewed, 30% of medical malpractice lawsuits cite miscommunication.

Patient Safety Concerns for LEP, Racial and Ethnic Minority Patients

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that in addition to high readmission rates, racial and ethnic minorities (including LEP patients) also present a higher degree of certain health-related concerns, including:

  • An increased risk of longer stays at the hospital
  • Higher rates of anxiety and depression
  • Less access to primary care providers
  • Inadequate follow-up care after discharge
  • Multiple co-morbidities
  • Socioeconomic pressure (e.g. underinsurance, social isolation, housing and food security issues, lack of access to transportation, lack of employment opportunities)


14 Facts to Know About Patient Safety and Language Access


Patient Safety and Language Access: The Impact of Professional Medical Interpretation Services on LEP Patient Care

Studies show that if language barriers between doctors and patients are not conquered, misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment are far more likely to occur. Studies have found the use of qualified medical interpreters to have a positive impact on patient care, raising the quality of clinical care for LEP patients to approach or equal that for patients English-speaking patients.

Professional medical interpreters have been associated with:

  • Higher quality of clinical care
  • Improved care
  • Higher levels of patient satisfaction
  • Fewer communication errors
  • A greater comprehension of diagnoses and follow up care instructions
  • Lower rates of readmission

In addition to language interpretation, medical translation of vital documents in for non-English speaking patients is crucial for healthcare facilities. Medical documents and patient care instructions can be confusing for a patient, but when the patient does not speak English documents must be provided in the language preferred by the patient.


Patient Safety and Language Interpretation: Prioritizing Language Access to Reduce Patient Harm (Infographic)

Patient Safety Awareness Week: Patient Safety and Language Interpretation Infographic | Telelanguage

Health care systems committed to patient safety must be able to communicate effectively with patients, regardless of the language they speak. There are currently over 350 languages spoken in the United States. Linguistic and cultural diversity in America will continue to grow. Today, immigrants account for 13.5% of the total United States population, and it is projected that immigration will account for 88% of the U.S. population increase through 2065.

Implementing and improving language access programs is key in healthcare settings and carefully choosing your healthcare language services partner will allow you to optimize interpretation cost while increasing overall patient satisfaction, increase efficiency, reduce readmission rates, and decrease communication errors that can lead to safety events.


The Telelanguage Difference

Since 1991, Telelanguage has helped thousands of healthcare organizations to improve language access programs through high-quality medical interpretation and translation services.

  • Superior-trained and certified medical interpreters
  • Available 24/7, 365 days a year
  • Translation of vital documents, patient forms, and notices
  • Fastest interpreter connect times in the industry
  • Leading-edge proprietary interpretation technology
  • Free Cultural Awareness training to help organizations work effectively LEP patients


Telelanguage Helps Clients Achieve and Maintain Compliance

Telelanguage provides 100% HIPAA compliant services, providing meaningful language access and compliance to meet the requirements of:

  • Affordable Care Act, Section 1557 (ACA)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI)
  • Fraud, Waste and Abuse (FWA)
  • The Joint Commission
  • Protected Health Information (PHI)


Language Access in Healthcare: Health Care Interpretation Services eBook | Telelanguage

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As a trusted provider of health care language services, we believe that all health care organizations should have affordable access to the best-qualified language service support. Telelanguage medical interpretation helps to improve the quality of hospital and healthcare language services while working to optimize interpretation costs.

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Our team of 5,000+ certified interpreters is ready to speak in over 300 languages. We offer complete language service solutions, including telephonic interpretation, on-site interpretation, video remote interpretation, and translation services for health care organizations.


Best Practices for Using Telephonic Interpreters in Hospitals | Telelanguage

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