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Telemed J E Health. 2010 Jul-Aug;16(6):739-45. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2009.0186.

Use of communication technologies to cost-effectively increase the availability of interpretation services in healthcare settings.

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Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7414, USA.


Poor patient-provider communication due to limited English proficiency (LEP) costs healthcare providers and payers through lower patient use of preventive care, misdiagnosis, increased testing, poor patient compliance, and increased hospital and emergency room admissions. Scarcity of bilingual healthcare professionals and prohibitive interpretation costs hinder full implementation of language service despite federal and state laws requiring their provision. We review recent published literature and unpublished data documenting the use of telephonic and video interpretation methodologies to improve healthcare communication with LEP persons. For example, a cooperative of nine California public hospitals and their associated community clinics, psychiatric facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and public health departments have implemented shared video interpretation services with video/voice-over Internet Protocol call center technology that automatically routes requests for interpretation in 15 languages to a pool of 30 full-time interpreters and 4 trained bilingual staff. For organizations seeking to initiate or expand their language services, the Internet provides access to translated documents, promising practices, step-by-step guides, planning tools, and research briefs. Such recent technological advances make provision of language services-to respond to federal and state mandates and improve access and quality of care to LEP persons-more feasible than is widely believed. Increased government and foundation support, and collaboration among provider organizations themselves can catalyze these efforts.

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