Language as a barrier to health: What Equiva’s doing to address this issue

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Author: Nir Altman, Co-founder and CEO, Equiva

In an April 28, 2022 article at Digital Health Insights (DHI) published by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME,) journalist Jennifer Bresnick outlines 3 steps for reducing health disparities based on language barriers  She writes: “Thanks to value-based care and the effective work of patient advocates, the healthcare industry has significantly enhanced its focus on addressing the social determinants of health (SDOHs.)”

We agree and applaud efforts by organizations seeking to advance health equity. For example, at our LinkedIn page, we recently recognized the eight health systems participating in an initiative launched by the American Hospital Association, the Joint Commission, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. We applaud their efforts to form a peer network which, according to American Medical Association President Gerald Harmon, MD, focuses on “improving health disparities in the structure DNA of hospital operations and health system delivery.”

At Equiva, our mission is rooted in health equity: 

“We believe that humanity will be better served when every person is connected to the individuals, information, and experiences that support overall well-being . . . and that patients, loved ones, and healthcare professionals deserve a more equitable, less fragmented system.”

In working with our customers, we continue to explore opportunities to address health inequities. This includes efforts to overcome language as a barrier to healthcare for individuals not proficient in English.

In the aforementioned article, Bresnick highlights limited proficiency English as one of the most challenging barriers to improve access, adherence and patient outcomes. She cites research from the Center for Immigration Studies showing that 67.3 million United States residents in the United States now speak a language other than English at home – a number that’s nearly tripled since 1980 and more than doubled since 1990. Approximately eight percent of people living in the United States “self-identify as speaking English ‘less than very well,’” she writes, adding that “in some counties, up to a third of the population has limited proficiency, exacerbating health disparities and leading to measurably worse health outcomes.”

What are the three steps included in this article?

1.) Appropriately document the need within the community

2.) Increase investments in live interpreters and tech-driven solutions

3.) Partner with the community to offer holistic language support

Specific to step #2, Bresnick writes: “To make the most of contracts with interpreter services, executive leaders should choose a company that offers enough skilled translators for their primary languages of need. These interpreters should provide video and/or audio services as well as the ability to translate written documents. Meanwhile, all clinical care providers and administrative staff should be equipped with tablets and/or smartphones to use for video and audio calling at the point of care.” 

Earlier this month, we announced a partnership with a leading language interpretation services provider, LanguageLineThe goal is to help healthcare organizations reduce language as a barrier to care for individuals not proficient in English, therein promoting efforts to advance health equity. 

This partnership streamlines the process to deliver LanguageLine’s interpreting application on Equiva’s health relationship management platform, ensuring round-the-clock access to nearly 17,000 interpreters in more than 240 languages via tablets and cell phones used by inpatients, outpatients, and people accessing services remotely from home and beyond. Interpretation services are available in both video and audio-only formats.

Health inequities are far too prevalent. We’re very pleased to break down a significant healthcare barrier by collaborating with LanguageLine to address language as an SDOH. By providing one-touch, always-on access to interpreters via mobile devices, we enable patients, loved ones, and clinicians to collaborate in a highly effective and efficient way.

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