Language Barriers

Language Barriers

Research shows that Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients are less likely to seek treatment and preventive services, leading to lower patient satisfaction, poor health outcomes and longer hospital stays. This page contains some helpful tools and tips to help you and your staff communicate with LEP patients and ensure they receive the care they need.

Using Interpreter Services

If you have trained, bilingual staff members, they can greatly improve patient comprehension and provide consistent interactions for a large number of patients. However, if that isn’t an option, there are many interpreter services available to help with patients that have linguistic barriers. Here are some tips for making the best use of the interpreter services available to you:

  • For short conversations or uncommon languages, telephone interpreter services are best. For sensitive, legal or long communications, face to face interpreters are better.
  • For reliable communication, avoid using minors or patient’s family members.
  • Ask all the health plans you work with if and when they provide interpreter services for their members. SCAN is happy to provide these services for our members. Please see below for more information.
  • Keep an updated list of telephone numbers and health plan contacts for language services.
  • Don’t forget to ask about Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) services and American Sign Language interpreters.
  • For face to face interpreters, be ready to provide the following information when requesting the service: gender, age, language, date/time of appointment, type of visit and office specialty.
  • Remember to follow all HIPAA regulations when transmitting any patient-identifiable information.
  • You can contract a telephonic interpreting company. Prices per minute can vary based on language and may be negotiable, depending on call volume. There may be additional setup and monthly fees. Training for how to use the system is usually available.
  • You should also check for services provided by local community-based organizations. Some provide free or low cost face to face interpreter services.
  • For further information, contact the National Council on Interpretation in Health Care, the Society of American Interpreters, the Translators & Interpreters Guild, the American Translators Association, or any local healthcare interpreters association in your area.

Communicating with LEP Patients

Language barriers can keep your patients from understanding healthcare information, instructions on prescriptions, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor’s directions and consent forms. To help overcome these barriers:

  • Ask patients for their preferred spoken and written language. You can also display a poster of common languages and ask them to point to their preferred language.
  • Encourage patients to carry “I speak…” or “Language ID” cards. Many phone interpreter companies provide language posters and cards at no cost.
  • Post information about the availability of interpreter services.
  • Use simple words. Avoid jargon, acronyms and technical language.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and repeat important information.
  • Give important information in small chunks and confirm it has been understood before moving on.
  • Provide educational materials in various languages.
  • Use pictures, demonstrations, video and/or audio whenever possible.

Interpreter Services for SCAN Members

SCAN provides over-the-phone and in-person interpreter services for our members’ appointments. These services can be requested by calling Member Services at (800) 559-3500 (TTY User: 711).

  • For over-the-phone translation, SCAN has Spanish-speaking Member Service Advocates on-staff. To connect the member to an interpreter for other languages, press 2 for a list of available languages.
  • For in-person appointments, SCAN offers free translation services for members in several languages, including American Sign Language. Members should call to request this service at least 72 hours before the scheduled appointment.