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Ask My Practice: Scarce Access to Interpreters Leads to High Risks in Healthcare

In 2003, California passed a law and set a precedent requiring that interpretation services be provided by health insurance organizations free of charge to any person with limited English proficiency. Since 2009, when health plans had to comply with the law, patients and/or healthcare professionals can request that a qualified medical interpreter be available either in-person or through a telephone or video conferencing system.

The only problem is that the medical facility and health plan typically need a 72-hour advance notice to provide this service. Often, as a substitute, patients will bring a family member to interpret for them, but the family member may not be trained in medical terminology and important facts may get lost in translation, which in addition to poorer patient compliance, can lead to increased liability. When this situation arises, medical professionals, in many cases, are at a loss for where to turn for support and are frequently forced to reschedule the patient’s visit.

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A story that may be all too familiar is a perfect example of why not to use a loved one as the interpreter. A patient’s husband still becomes emotional when he remembers having to tell his wife that she had breast cancer, because no other interpreter was available to share the news. She had no way of truly understanding how her chemo worked or what the pain would be like because her husband who spoke limited English was her interpreter. Although now cancer free, the patient and her family will forever be impacted by their experience.

Census data suggests that as many as 1 in 10 working adults in the U.S. has limited English-language proficiency. Hospitals and other medical facilities are required to have “meaningful access” to patients so they can make informed decisions about their health while understanding what is being told to them.

Research has shown that requiring interpreters in clinical settings can improve outcomes and reduce persistent disparities in healthcare. And yet, thousands of hospital and medical practices nationwide continue to fall short when it comes to providing the services that are critical to relaying important information to patients with reduced English-language proficiency.

The Solution

In most healthcare-related situations, clear and concise communication is a pre-requisite if you want to effectively treat care for your patient. In many instances, access to interpretation services is compulsory and compliance-mandated.

CAP remains committed to delivering time and money-saving practice management programs to help your practice grow. Through the CAPAdvantage program, members can access Boostlingo, which offers complete and on-demand language access solutions for medical practices at discounted rates. The Boostlingo Unified Platform helps physicians reduce their own medical interpretation costs by combining video remote interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting, and traditional on-site scheduling services for full end-to-end coverage on any language need of any complexity as it
may arise.

To learn more, visit or contact Andie Tena, CAP’s Director of Practice Management Services,
at or via phone at 213-473-8630.