During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have had to adjust the way they evaluate and care for patients using methods that do not rely on in-person services. As a result, recent policy changes during this difficult time have sought to reduce barriers to health service access. These changes have expanded the ability to use telehealth as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary, and specialty care.

One specific example of these policy changes is the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid telehealth services under the 1135 waiver. Under this new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patients’ places of residence starting March 6, 2020. One of the goals of this expansion is to ensure that high-risk patients have easy-to-use, accessible benefits that can help them stay healthy.

What do these changes mean for Limited English Proficiency patients?

While telehealth services are increasing due to COVID, many Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients are reluctant to use them. The University of California found that their primary care clinic’s number of LEP patients dropped by 50% once they switched to telehealth. A major concern of medical providers is that while clinics are limiting in-person interaction to slow the spread of COVID, a LEP patient’s ability to effectively communicate using a video conferencing platform directly impacts their ability to receive healthcare.

How can LEP patients access the telehealth services they need?

One way that health providers can make telehealth accessible to their LEP patients is by using a platform that enables the patient to communicate with their provider via a remote interpreter. There are two basic types of remote interpretation:

Video Remote Interpretation (VRI) and Over the Phone Interpretation (OPI).

VRI uses devices such as web cameras or videophones to provide sign language or spoken language interpreting services. VRI is an on-demand service that can be accessed quickly while also allowing for a high level of accuracy due to the extra ability of the interpreter pick up on non-verbal communication. 

Benefits of VRI include:

  • Allows healthcare professionals to see their patients to gather more accurate info about their health
  • Allows interpreters to read facial expression and body language, clarifying the speaker’s intent
  • Provides access for deaf patients who communicate using ASL
  • Builds trust with the health care provider through face-to-face interaction

Telephonic interpreting offers a cost-effective interpreting solution works well for interactions, such as telehealth phone appointments, that do not require non-verbal cues or visual contact with the interpreter.

Benefits of OPI include:

  • Available to use with or without internet access
  • Provides alternative for patients who are more comfortable using audio-only rather than being on camera

No matter which form of remote interpreting you choose, using a service whose interpreters are specially trained to interpret in the medical setting is important. Professional medical interpreters are experts in their languages as well as medical terminology and communication. 

SpokenHere’s ConnectNow remote interpretation platform allows you to connect with our HIPAA-compliant medical interpreters instantly over the phone, from your desktop, tablet, or even mobile device. Our on-demand remote interpreting services are available 24/7/365 in over 220 languages to help you provide better care to your LEP patients. Take our Language Needs Assessment to help you determine if your organization is truly meeting the needs of  LEP patients.

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