During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer adoption of telehealth has skyrocketed, from 11% of U.S. consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46% of consumers now using telehealth to replace canceled healthcare visits, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 consumer survey conducted in April.  In a digitized world, technological solutions to bridge the gap in healthcare during a no-contact crisis seems like a no-brainer. With 96% of Americans owning a cell phone of some kind, 81% of which own smart-phones, while three-quarters of adults have access to a laptop or desktop computer, the telehealth route appears to be the smartest option for most patients.

However, those whose first language is not English may face significant disruptions in procuring proper care, due to limited language options on commonly used telehealth platforms, or difficulty navigating English-only webpages. From alerts sent by doctors’ offices informing patients of cancelled appointments to directions for use of a remote platform, there are a plethora of steps which can be confusing when the communication is only available in two or fewer languages. For Limited English Proficient speakers in the United States, the new climate of remote healthcare commands a level of infrastructure which was not necessarily robust from the onset to support this new demand. Even with the right technological infrastructure, telehealth may not be an accessible option to almost 25 million patients with Limited English, as well as the 22% percent of the total population ages 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home. 

So, what measures can telehealth providers take to ensure equitable access to remote care for their patients?

Considering A New Patient Journey

When discussing linguistic accessibility, it is important to consider what new patient journey looks like, and the importance of designing new platforms with Limited English speakers in mind.

With online physician services comes new protocol, such as receiving initial communication about the move to remote services, understanding available insurance coverage options, and signing up to receive care through a portal. For the majority, even the directions to register, request an appointment and information on coverage options may have limited language options, which is problematic when introducing patients to a new system. While there may be language options later down the line, if this is not immediately apparent that this will be the case, it can prompt confusion, hesitation, and potential distrust due to added layers of difficulty involved in receiving services.

Maximizing Access to Telehealth Technology

When designing a platform intended for patients from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds, working with a language services provider can help spot the potential linguistic and cultural pitfalls that prevent access to care that may otherwise go unnoticed. Listening to patient stories and struggles when moving to telehealth is a huge indicator of where healthcare providers need to direct efforts to ensure seamless integration onto a new platform, particularly for Limited English Proficient communities.

When developing a new app or website, its important to have localization in mind. That doesn’t mean having the app or site translated from the get-go. But you should ensure that the back-end code is set up in way that allows for seamless export and import of translated content and the front-end (including the URL) allows for toggling between languages based on ISO 2-letter language codes. If you have developed your app and site already, utilizing a website proxy solution would allow you to provide multiple languages to patients without the need to export or import content.

The Value of Video Remote Interpretation Services

The use of Video Remote Interpretation is on the rise, but as mentioned before, it is not a turnkey solution to effectively bridging the cultural gap between patient and healthcare provider. Optimizing VRI platforms to incorporate ease of use up to and after the point of the consultation involves taking into account the new patient journey and understanding where there may be cultural roadblocks.

However, if done correctly, arranging a virtual healthcare visit through VRI becomes seamless for both patient and provider, quelling the need for more costly on-site or over the phone interpretation. It is also a more accessible solution for those who are hard of hearing, or depend on non-verbal communication, ensuring accuracy across all level of communication. Additionally, health insurance providers are expanding coverage to account for virtual medicine visits to ensure ease of access when getting to the doctor’s office presents a higher risk.

With near-instant connection times, patients are in a better position to receive culturally accurate, high-quality care at a reduced cost from the comfort of their homes.

CQ fluency can provide consultation on setting up apps and sites with localization in mind and also has website proxy and website connector capabilities. Learn more about how CQ fluency’s VRI solutions ensure cultural accuracy and enhance patient care.