Hospital Interpreters: Ensuring Hospital Compliance with Federal and Local Law

certified medical interpreter

Hospital Interpreters: Ensuring Hospital Compliance with Federal and Local Law

Medical providers often face challenges when it comes to communicating with patients. Information about a diagnosis, treatment plan, or prognosis is typically complex, featuring a lot of terminology that’s unfamiliar with patients.

However, if a patient doesn’t speak English fluently, the situation is even more difficult. Around 67.3 million United States residents speak a language other than English at home. Of those, 15 percent do not speak English well, and 7 percent don’t speak English at all. If a patient doesn’t speak English comfortably, conveying critical information might be impossible.

Luckily, hospital interpreters make overcoming the language barrier possible. They can ensure full understanding among all involved parties, something that’s crucial for sound healthcare.

If you are wondering what responsibilities you may have as a hospital administrator or other medical professional, here’s what you need to know about language service laws and compliance.

Federal Requirement to Provide Hospital Interpreters

While it may seem like offering hospital interpreter services is optional, it often isn’t. Many facilities are bound by federal or state law, making language support for non-English speakers mandatory.

The clearest example of the requirement is based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars any action that may be viewed as discriminatory if an organization receives federal funding. This includes Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP.

Since a lack of language services can be deemed discriminatory, hospitals that receive funding through the programs above – as well as any other federal source – are required to make hospital interpreters available to limited English proficiency (LEP) patients. Additionally, those services must be made available at no cost to the patient in federally funded medical facilities.

It’s also important to note that the size of the healthcare facility is often irrelevant. The law applies to hospitals, doctor’s offices, hospice care centers, nursing homes, and other entities, regardless of the number of patients they serve.

State Requirements to Provide Medical Interpreters

While Title VI only addresses medical facilities that receive federal funding, that doesn’t mean those that don’t accept federal funding aren’t required to provide medical interpreters. In some cases, there may be state laws that make it a requirement for those facilities.

The nature of the state laws can vary, so healthcare organizations should spend time researching what applies in their area. That way, they can ensure full compliance.

Benefits of Providing Hospital Interpreters

Some hospitals may wonder about the value of formal interpretation services, particularly if they have bilingual staff or if a family member is available to translate. However, those approaches aren’t always ideal.

If you rely on bilingual staff, you could be at risk of malpractice should the information be conveyed improperly. Family members may be inclined to downplay the severity of a condition, viewing it as a kindness to the patient or due to the inability to be honest about the situation. It also ensures a family member doesn’t inject their view or values into the equation, as that’s something the patient may not want.

Ultimately, working with a certified medical interpreter is safer for everyone involved. It ensures accuracy and impartiality, both of which are vital to the equation.

Providing Medical and Hospital Interpreter Services to Patients

When it comes to providing hospital and medical interpreter services to patients, facilities often have several options. Which ones are considered appropriate may depend on the facility type, as well as what is mandated by federal and state law.

However, it’s wise to understand which approaches are available, as well as the benefits of each. Often, a combined approach is preferred, as it ensures a robust, comprehensive plan is in place for covering a wide range of needs.

In-Person Medical Interpreters

On-site, in-person medical interpreters are often the best approach. They allow an interpreter to be fully present during all conversations, ensuring they can understand the situation in its entirety and better address all parties. In-person interpreters are also able to key into non-verbal cues to ensure communication is clear.

Additionally, on-site interpretation eliminates issues that can result from faulty technology, a challenge that can arise when using web conferencing services. It may also outperform telephone interpretation, as everyone can see each other, something that may provide all participants with visual cues and further context.

Remote Hospital Interpreters

Remote interpretation services can include both phone and video call options. These may be ideal if the language needed isn’t widely spoken in the region, something that may make finding an on-site interpreter difficult.

Further, they may be safer during hazardous situations. While COVID-19 is a prime example of these circumstances, that certainly isn’t the only one. For instance, if a patient has a highly contagious illness or a severely compromised immune system, a remote solution may be ideal for the health of those involved.

Document Translation Services

Document translation services ensure that patients can review any provided printed materials in a language they understand. While many healthcare facilities have commonly shared documents available in multiple languages, this may not cover the breadth of their need.

For example, individualized treatment plans may benefit from document translation services. Similarly, if a patient has a need for written information that is rarely necessary, a pre-translated version may not be available.

Acutrans provides medical interpretation services and certified, notarized translations within 24 hours. If you need a medical interpreter to ensure compliance and provide better patient care, the Acutrans team can offer a fast, reliable, and professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.