The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many inequities that exist in healthcare systems. One of these issues that have been brought to the forefront is the existing language disparity. The impact of language limitations on patients during COVID-19 is present amongst multiple channels including diagnostic testing, public health messaging, and the actual delivery of healthcare.
The Current Issue
Unfortunately, when patients and doctors don’t speak the same language, patients face incredible difficulty understanding treatments. This results in more healthcare resources being used than required due to more readmissions, more testing, and more extended periods of hospital stays.
Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals, which account for more than 25 million in the United States, face unique barriers due to their inability to understand the language. These individuals face incredible difficulty interacting with healthcare providers, addressing insurance concerns, and accessing interpreters.
What makes the entire situation even more difficult is the fact that vulnerable patients aren’t even aware of their right to have access to qualified interpreters and other language access provisions, free of charge.
The Potential Solution
Hence, reducing healthcare language barriers is crucial, especially in a world that’s undergoing a previously unseen health crisis as it is today. The first step would be to promote multilingualism at the supplier side in medical schools, where students will specifically be taught how to inform patients of their language assistance rights and use remote interpreter services.
And that’s where patient empowerment platforms such as Patient Orator, which is helping patients document their health concerns to improve the communication gap between the patient and medical provider come in. Such platforms can help bridge the gap between LEP individuals and healthcare providers by providing them with the resources they require to gain better healthcare access. Below is the necessary information on how patients and family caregivers can become certified medical interpreters and can then help bridge the communication gap that exists and guide patients accordingly.
Patient empowerment platforms such as Patient Orator are a vital step towards a more inclusive environment. Critical information needs to be available in languages other than English, and testing centers should be set up in areas with large populations of LEP communities. With an increase in telemedicine, interpreter services and fully fluent clinicians need to be present remotely.
Countering these issues and bridging these barriers will require a multi-faceted approach. Utilizing the different resources available and creating more opportunities and awareness can help equip more healthcare providers with the skills needed to cater to diverse patients. With the identification of language disparities, the next step is to implement solutions to lead to a more inclusive healthcare system and help ease the relationship between COVID-19 and LEP patients
“Addressing Barriers To Care For Patients With Limited English Proficiency During The COVID-19 Pandemic, ” Health Affairs Blog, July 29, 2020.DOI: 10.1377/hblog20200724.76821
The Missing Strategy in Addressing Language Barriers, Am J Manag Care. 2021;27(3):93-95. https://doi.org/10.37765/ajmc.2021.88594
Kucirek NK, Thomas NJ, Norman JS, et al. Stories from COVID-19 Reveal Hospitalized Patients with Limited English Proficiency Have Always Been Uniquely Prone to Social Isolation. J Gen Intern Med. 2021;36(3):786-789. doi:10.1007/s11606-020-06383-z
Diamond LC, Jacobs EA, Karliner L. Providing equitable care to patients with limited dominant language proficiency amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Patient Educ Couns. 2020;103(8):1451-1452. doi:10.1016/j.pec.2020.05.028
Resources For Caregivers of LEP Patients: