Archive for April 30, 2009

Language access vital to containing and preventing swine flu

As reports of the swine flu outbreak monopolize the news, school districts, healthcare institutions and government agencies are moving swiftly to effectively communicate with their LEP audience. Organizations across the country are requesting informative translations into several languages such as Spanish, Tagalog, Russian and Vietnamese in an effort to maximize outreach to their non-English speaking constituents.

Considering a potential pandemic, it is of the utmost importance to distribute these translations as quickly as possible. ViaLanguage has been providing a 24-48 hour turnaround time of swine flu documents ranging from FAQs for healthcare workers to letters instructing ELL parents to keep their children home from school if they are experiencing flu-like systems.

During an emergency situation such as this, it is absolutely vital to everyone that language appropriate outreach materials are distributed to the entire population. By working together to spread the word, we will be much better equipped to contain and ultimately prevent the spread of swine flu.

Maggie Nickles

K-12  Program Manager


Laws provide good guidelines for healthcare translation needs

As we know, a number of laws exist at the federal, state and local levels to ensure that patients who are limited English proficient (LEP) can access healthcare in their own language. Most recent to join that list is the second phase of the California state law (SB 853), which just took effect.

This recent initiative requires health insurers to provide, at no charge, language interpreters and translated materials to LEP patients. The goal, as with other similar laws, is to help these communities better navigate the healthcare system and effectively communicate with their doctors and other healthcare providers.

The need to provide information in multiple languages continues to grow and there is no doubt that the need for LEP consideration in the healthcare industry is only growing. These laws serve as good general guidelines, underscoring the fact that evaluation of LEP patients’ specific needs and conveying program information in a culturally sensitive manner has never been more important.

In the end, moves like SB 853 reflect how critical it is to remember that the changing character of U.S. populations requires new strategies to meet these new needs. Only in this way can we hope to reach a future in which every patient understands his or her healthcare information.

Good health!

Healthcare translation needs include advance directives

Healthcare Decisions Day was marked on April 16 this year. The purpose of the annual event is to remind people to consider their “advance directives,” which basically means things like creating living wills, setting up powers of attorney, etc.

While maybe not the most comfortable thing for a lot of people, it’s an important step in ensuring one is prepared in the event of a medical emergency, and especially valuable, of course, for those who are getting on in years.

A key part of the process is encouraging people to discuss their values, preferences and concerns with family and their doctor. It’s the communications with the doctor and other healthcare professionals that as language services providers we’re concerned about.

Most people feel strongly about the kind of care they receive in a situations in which they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate their preferences. We must work together to ensure that information on these advance directives is available in the patient’s preferred language. Not only is it the necessary thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do.

Good health!

Try this tip for cutting healthcare translation time and cost

Healthcare budgets are tight. Each day you are being asked to do more with less, and that includes how you meet the challenges of working with a range of limited-English proficient (LEP) communities. But what you really can’t afford is to neglect the language needs of these patients.

Luckily, there are ways to streamline your healthcare translation process that not only increase your efficiency and patient service, but can also cut costs by up to 30 percent. One easy change that will help is to avoid using text embedded graphics and PDF files in your materials.

Why? Well, text expands as you translate from English to virtually every other language, which means that any text embedded into the graphics and page layout will very likely require additional redesign and, therefore, more reviews.

If you’re working with graphics that need to be localized to work in other languages and cultures, remember to consider the graphic sizing, page design and user interactions. It will save your patients confusion and you time and money.

Good health!


Add internationalization to your healthcare translation process

Like almost anything we undertake to do, a little planning at the beginning can save a lot of time and frustration later. That is certainly true in your localization efforts where the single best way to cut costs comes at the beginning of the process. Internationalization is an effective way to do that.

What is internationalization? It is, in general terms, “the process of designing or later preparing a product so that it can be easily localized.” If your Web site or healthcare materials will be localized into 20 languages, internationalization helps you solve any content or design issues once, instead of 20 times.

Examples of internationalization include rewriting a document using standard English, or rewriting software code so that it does not make assumptions about using only English characters.

All too often materials don’t get produced in an internationalized state. The next time you’re beginning work on a new healthcare document, consider adding an internationalization step to your medical translation process. See the difference it can make.

Good health!


New healthcare technology must respect the needs of LEP audiences

A lot of hope — and money — is being invested in technology as a means for helping promote improved healthcare. Fueled in part by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), this situation in the U.S. is sure to continue to heat up.

Jacob Goldstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog, cites a report from DataMonitor in which Intel and General Electric claim that the North American and European markets for just one facet of this effort, “telehealth” and home-health monitoring, are expected to grow from $3 billion in 2009 to some $7.7 billion by 2012.

Part of the goal with telehealth is to enable doctors to monitor their sick patients remotely, so the patients can stay at home. Google and IBM already say that patients can use IBM software to transfer data from medical devices like blood-pressure cuffs and glucose monitors directly to Google’s online personal health record.

The promise for these innovations is truly exciting. Meanwhile, the challenge for technology companies, and the healthcare providers who invest in their tools, will be to ensure that all patients, especially those for whom English is a struggle, also benefit.

Good health!


Healthcare translation is necessary for effective self-care

In a recent article in the New York Times Health section by Dr. Pauline W. Chen, Dr. Chen discusses one of the thorniest issues facing healthcare professionals when it comes to patient health: communicating the importance of self-care to patients.

Healthcare providers devote time, energy and resources to the effort but many haven’t been able to, as Dr. Chen put it referring to a particular patient, explain the patient’s condition “in a way that rang true to him.” The result, in her case, has been a sad and dramatic decline in the patient’s health.

What struck me, of course, was how difficult it is to communicate the necessary information to patients — even when relying on English! Imagine, then, the challenges, and the consequences, faced by limited English proficient (LEP) patients when their healthcare provider does not adequately meet their medical translation needs.

The costs of failing these audiences are great, impacting not only the health of patients, but also that of the healthcare system in general and the broader society as a whole.

Good health!

The healthcare advances of ARRA will be powered by access

There is no disputing that technology is going to play an increasingly important role in the healthcare landscape in the years to come. President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) underscores that trend.

The hot issue inspired by ARRA, according to Peter Neupert, Microsoft VP and author of the blog “Neupert on Health,” is how the term “meaningful use” will be defined for health information technology. As it impacts incentive payments, the debate promises to be a rousing one.

Neupert recommends making the sharing of information with consumers a required condition of “meaningful use.” That makes a lot of sense, especially given the myriad new ways in which healthcare professionals can communicate with their various audiences, much of it two way, portable and in virtual real time.

The key, of course, is access. Consumers have to be able to reach that information. More importantly, they have to be able to understand it. If we are to truly make ARRA the historic step it can be we have to make sure that the language needs of today’s growing limited English proficient audiences are incorporated.

Good health!


New communication tools are only as powerful as the clarity of your message

Reading Brian Klepper’s most recent post on the healthcareblog got me thinking about how the healthcare industry is beginning to rethink the way it communicates with its audiences. Klepper had apparently just come from a health plan conference and notes that the subject figured among the main themes of the event.

I talked a bit in my March 18 post about on how social networking tools are poised to become very valuable resources in reaching your limited English proficient (LEP) audiences, especially considering their popularity in Spanish-speaking communities. Texting, email and ergonomic Web interfaces are also likely to be leveraged.

The trailblazers in the industry who are leading the way toward incorporating these modern communications tools, including options like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc., see the advantages to be earned with regard to educating members, building loyalty and promoting retention.

And the advantages are definitely there. But the makeup of your audience is changing, and neglecting the unique language and cultural requirements of your developing LEP audiences will mean missing the boat on the opportunities these new tools offer.

Good health!


Avoid confusion with neutral Spanish in your healthcare translations

Spanish is spoken in some 23 countries by more than 450 million people. This variety has influenced usage to the extent that far from a single, uniform language, Spanish is really more of a family of closely related languages.

If you have visited both Madrid and Mexico City you know this firsthand. The idioms, slang, pronunciation and even grammar in one differ noticeably from those in the other. While interesting on a linguistic level, these variations can pose significant challenges in a medical translation context.

Today, thanks in part to widely available media like Univision, major Spanish newspapers and the Internet, these different varieties of Spanish are familiar and increasingly comprehensible to Spanish speakers of different backgrounds.

But to bridge the gap a “Neutral Spanish,” also called Latin American Spanish, has developed that tends to disregard local grammatical and vocabulary differences in order to standardize the language. This makes it a useful healthcare translation solution as it is likely to be easily understood by all Spanish speakers with whom you are communicating.

Good health!