The 5 Ways to Increase Health Equity – Through Language
The WHO says, “Health equity” or “equity in health” implies that ideally everyone should have a fair opportunity to attain their full health potential and that no one should be disadvantaged from achieving this potential.  Unfortunately, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has highlighted the issue of health equity in the US. For years there have been issues with healthcare outcomes for people of color and people in underserved communities. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says, “A massive body of evidence strongly links economic/social disadvantage with avoidable illness, disability, suffering, and premature death.”  Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people of color and low incomes at higher rates than the rest of the population. That’s because these groups are more likely to be working in essential jobs and have preexisting conditions that contribute to higher COVID-19 mortality.
After seeing these outcomes, many healthcare organizations want to now focus on health equity. But this can seem like such a huge problem! Where would they even start? It may be surprising but one of the easiest ways for healthcare providers to contribute health care in patients’ native languages. Read on to learn about the easy ways to help increase health equity through language!
5 Ways to Increase Health Equity as a Healthcare Organization
1. Do research on what immigrant communities are around your organization
First, get to know what sort of immigrant communities are in your area. This will give you an idea of what languages they will need for care. Also, it will help inform what you will be providing them care for. For example, if there is a poultry processing plant in your town and many immigrants from Guatemala, you will need to provide care in Spanish for injuries that would be sustained on a factory floor. Understanding LEP communities and how they can best be served is the first step to health equity.
2. Make interpreters available at all appointments
It is very important that interpreters are available to patients for all appointments free of cost. One of the biggest barriers to giving and receiving care is language. Think to any time you’ve been to the hospital. Your doctor probably sounded like they were speaking a different language when explaining the diagnosis to you even if they were speaking your language! Now imagine trying to understand your diagnosis or communicate the problem while not speaking the same language. Studies have shown that providing professional interpreters increases the quality of care for patients.  When this is automatically available and free of charge for the patient, you increase health equity.
3. Provide all forms and written information in your community’s main languages
Just like with interpreters, providing translated materials to patients increases health outcomes. Any document the patient or provider will need should be available in both parties’ languages. When the forms are available across many languages patients can more accurately provide information that increases their level of care. For example, a patient being able to describe her family’s history of breast cancer can help a doctor to monitor her more closely for it and potentially save her life by diagnosing a problem early. Translations allow patients of all languages to access the same care, thus increasing health equity.
4. Community outreach with different language groups
Another way to increase health equity is to work on community outreach to the LEP communities in your area. Even limited engagement to show you are available for care is better than nothing. People within the LEP community may have been unaware that they would be provided services in their native language had it not been for a translated flier or interpreted phone call.
5. Incorporate culturally sensitive practices into your care
Finally, using culturally sensitive practices can help increase health equity. In many cultures, customs surrounding gender mixing and healthcare can limit certain groups’ access to health care. For example, in many Muslim-majority countries it is considered inappropriate for a male doctor or interpreter to see a female patient. Being able to have a patient feel comfortable puts them on equal footing with English-speaking patients and increases health equity.
For more than 20 years, Acutrans has helped clients to increase healthy equity in their communities. Acutrans provides interpreting and translation services along with consulting on how to increase cultural sensitivity. Together, we are working to improve health outcomes for patients. Visit Acutrans’ website to learn more today.
 The WHO on Health Equity: https://www.who.int/topics/health_equity/en/
 NIH on Health Equity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3863701/
 The NIH on Interpreters and Care: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1955368/