Stay updated with the industry and Bromberg office news
Language Access Plans: Successful communication is all in the planningMarch 21, 2017
Communication, aurally, visually, digitally, is how we speak to each other. While modes of communication can be different for everyone, there is a singular commonality – to achieve the purpose of communicating a message, communication must be understood by all involved.
Indeed, according to the Annual Review of Public Health (2016), “Accurate communication is essential … to obtain a patient’s history, make a correct diagnosis, and reduce medical errors; it is also important for patients to understand the clinician, comply with treatment regimens, and give informed consent.”
Communication understanding and accuracy can be difficult if everyone concerned does not speak the same language, cannot hear, or cannot see. Such difficulty can result in significant miscommunications and misunderstandings, while also having even life or death consequences in health care and law enforcement situations, for example. As a 2013 American Medical Association article confirms, miscommunication and misunderstanding can have significant consequences:
“Research also shows that patients with [limited English proficiency] are particularly vulnerable to miscommunication when discharged from the emergency department. And discordant communication between LEP patients and physicians results in both lower patient and clinician satisfaction.”
When faced with communication and language challenges, what do you do?
- How do you handle a situation where a patient comes to your office and does not speak English?
- What do you do in a courtroom where someone is deaf and cannot understand spoken speech?
- How do you serve a customer who, not understanding you walks out of your front door?
Well, it’s all in the plans – Language Access Plans.
Having legally compliant language access plans for people who are limited English proficient or who are deaf or blind will answer these questions and more, empowering you, your colleagues, and your organization to know what to do when the inevitable communication and language issue arises.
Importantly, having such plans in your go-to toolbox of solutions will also help you avoid being sued for federal civil rights discrimination and avoid winding up defending yourself in your neighborhood federal courthouse.
Simply put, language assistance is a federal civil right. Not providing accurate, effective language assistance can well be a violation of federal laws.
With your legally compliant language access plan in place and staff trained in how to use and implement the plan, you will be well positioned to avoid the following true stories, all of which raise serious legal and communication issues:
“We can just use this paper to write down what needs to be said, rather than trying to get someone here.”
“We wanted to make sure it is OK for us to use Google Translate for our website.”
“I have been called to interpret for patient discharge instructions. I find it startling to realize they have not had language access for the entire encounter until the very end. How did they tell the patients what was wrong and what the complaint was?”
“I wanted to be clever so I went to Google Translate to leave a message in Vietnamese. Whatever it was that I wrote left everyone in gales of laughter. I have a feeling whatever I said was highly inappropriate.”
“I frequently have been told that the patient's mother or brother or sister or child were with them, so they just used them to interpret.”
“With a domestic violence victim who does not speak English – “I don’t need an interpreter. Her spouse speaks her language.”
“We just use the telephone when someone does not speak English. But I must say, when we have hour long conversations, it can be hard for everyone to understand what is being said.”
“A 10-year old child is smart enough to be an interpreter. My grandson is very bright. And he’s 10.”
“The judge and court officer conferred, but Plaintiff could not understand the communication and he repeatedly stated that he is deaf and could not understand any of the communications by the judge to him…. The judge became aggravated and stated: "That's a lie! You can hear me!" Plaintiff responded by stating, "I am not lying, I am deaf.”
“Moreover, [the] executive vice president… testified in her …. deposition that [Hospital’s] ADA compliance policy for the hearing impaired was in need of revision.”
So, what’s in your plan?
To be best positioned to serve your customers, patients, and the public who do not speak English, and stay on the right side of the law, you need a legally correct language access plan. Minimizing the chances of your being in one of the above situations requires planning. Getting started with your language access plan will put you on the best path to effective communications with the people walking through your business’s front door.
© Bruce L. Adelson, special for Bromberg. 2017 All Rights Reserved. The material herein is educational and informational only. No legal advice is intended or conveyed.
Bruce L. Adelson, Esq, CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws. Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Senior Attorney. During his Justice career, Mr. Adelson had national enforcement and policy responsibility.