Archive for May 27, 2009

Healthcare translation needs to be embraced by urgent care centers

Translation and localization are necessities in virtually every industry today. But maybe only in the healthcare sector can a failure here become a matter of life and death.

The challenge is that healthcare is in the midst of dramatic changes in how it is offered, paid for, and supported. One recent development that has been getting a good deal of attention lately is the rise of urgent care facilities as a cheaper, more convenient alternative to the traditional emergency room.

These facilities, sometimes called “docs in a box,” offer walk-in medical services and extended hours for those with non-life-threatening medical problems. Doctors provide the care, assisted by nurses, and most are open 365 days a year with insurance covering most services.

In most states, however, urgent care centers are not overseen by the Department of Health or other state agencies. This means things like services, staff credentials, and the hours of operation are not always clear. Also unclear is each center’s commitment to healthcare access for limited English proficient (LEP) audiences.

If urgent care centers are a trend that will endure, those operating them must remember the language needs of their. Otherwise, only those who speak English well are likely to benefit.

Good health!

Swine flu outbreak points up the need for healthcare translation

I ran across an interesting post recently on the Chicago Tribune health blog, Triage. It was a brief alert to Spanish speakers that the National Council of La Raza had compiled on its Web site resources ― in Spanish and English ― about the swine flu. And it got me thinking.

The post underscored in a couple ways the complexity those in the healthcare industry face given the myriad languages and cultures with which it must deal every day. First, the post about Spanish was in English on an English blog. That’s interesting. Second, it was notable that having originated in Mexico, the disease apparently had not received adequate explanation in Spanish for some audiences in the U.S.

The council’s decision to include both languages also illustrated a very important point about communicating with Spanish-speaking limited English proficient (LEP) patients: They prefer bilingualism to exclusive Spanish.

One wonders if non-Spanish speakers who happened to be in Mexico during the outbreak received adequate English translation of important information related to the flu. In our interconnected global world, we simply cannot afford to ignore such needs.

Good health!

The best healthcare translation comes from native speakers

As the limited English proficient (LEP) population continues to grow in the U.S., and as talk circles around the idea of mandatory healthcare for all Americans, the ever-expanding need for healthcare translation is only going to grow more acute.

It’s too early to tell what the new healthcare system will look like, but what we do know is that many of the communities using the new system will need healthcare translation services. Those companies that fail to meet this need are likely to find themselves unable to compete.

As you review the skills and capabilities of your current healthcare translation partner, or begin the process of securing one, there are a few things to keep in mind. Uppermost in these considerations is this: Does the agency use translators that are native speakers in the languages you need?

Native speakers bring a linguistic intuition that helps ensure that you are clearly and effectively communicating with your audience. That translator should also be as fluent in English as in his or her native language. Their background should also include experience living and working in the U.S. Good luck!

Good health!

Fixing a healthcare system that can’t fix itself

A recent post by Joe Flower on The Health Care Blog titled “Health Care as a Complex Adaptive System” applies the idea of game theory to the debate about healthcare reform with some very interesting results.

Flower notes that all dynamic systems continually adapt, but that over time the healthcare system has become optimized to benefit those with the greatest resources. The challenge is that while all systems are also to a degree self-correcting, healthcare has not righted itself and is swamping the economy. In the process, patients are paying the price, both literally and in terms of compromised care, including healthcare translation.

In game-theory terms, we have, according to Flower, reached a “Nash equilibrium,” which is a kind of systemic paralysis in which no one part can benefit from a unilateral change in strategy. In fact, such moves are usually punished. A doctor who decides to spend more time with each patient, for example, may pay the price economically and maybe even professionally.

What’s clear is that a change is necessary. Hopefully the current administration’s commitment to finding a solution and the vote of confidence expressed last week by a number of healthcare industry trade groups will help us build a system that serves ― and communicates with ― all patients.

Good health!

Healthcare translation at top of list of needs for many uninsured

As you no doubt read in the news last week a number of leading groups in the healthcare industry have volunteered to step up and help tackle the ever increasing healthcare costs. Their goal is to cut $2 trillion from projected increases over the next decade by trimming about 1.5 percent a year to, as they put it, “create a more stable and sustainable healthcare system.”

At the same time, having made certain concessions, insurers want Congress to enact legislation that would require every American to have health insurance, sort of like you must have car insurance if you want to drive. Despite the fact that President Obama is not hot on the idea, Democrats like it.

If it were to happen, it would mean adding about 46 million Americans to the healthcare rolls. Critical but as yet overlooked in these discussions is the reality that a significant percentage of these uninsured Americans are limited English proficient (LEP) speakers. If we hope to create a stable and sustainable healthcare system that serves everyone, the healthcare translation needs of these patients must be among the first considerations as we move forward.

Good health!

Don’t forget healthcare translation when using social media

It has become increasingly clear that social media can be a valuable communications tool both for patients and healthcare professionals. This is especially true of limited English proficient (LEP) patients, who are embracing innovations like Facebook and Myspace in great numbers.

Here are a few of the interesting results recently found in the Spring 2009 Ad-ology Media Influence on Consumer Choice survey:

Social media influenced nearly 40 percent of hospital or urgent care center patients.
Patients 25-34 years old were the most influenced by social media.
Social media outlets such as forums and discussion boards had a “significant” influence on 20 percent of 25-34 year olds who recently made a visit for maternity reasons.
Women accounted for approximately 60 percent of those who researched family doctors online.
Hospital/urgent care Web sites had the most influence on 18- to 24-year-old patients (53.8 percent).

Many forward-thinking healthcare organizations are already leveraging social media resources to reach their patients. The question is: Are they doing so in the preferred language of those patients?

Good health!

Can changing your source application cut healthcare translation costs?

Here’s something to think about the next time you review your next healthcare translation process. In an earlier post I talked about how these days content is typically distributed through multiple channels (e.g., software, help files, websites, hard copy). As you likely know all too well, each channel has its own source format, which means time-consuming conversion.

Here’s some food for thought: Many companies have found it valuable to switch to standards like XML and SGML because of their extensive re-use and exporting features. SGML has long been a standard in the automotive industry, which has significant volumes of content to manage. XML solutions can offer the same leverage without the huge implementation costs.

Making the right desktop publishing application choice can also reward you with significant savings. Applications such as Adobe FrameMaker not only support non-Roman character sets, but also allow easy export to HTML and XML and functional PDFs.

Check with your localization partner; they should be able to help you determine whether changing your source application will help you cut costs.

Good health!

Tear down the walls, but don’t forget to lift up healthcare translation

In a recent post on the Neupert on Health blog entitled “Tear Down the Walls and Liberate the Data” Peter Neupert echoes the belief of a great many inside and outside healthcare: “Real-time, accessible, meaningful and comprehensive data is fundamental to health care.”

Data liquidity can help make possible powerful advances in data sharing, efficiency, and treatment, from making a diagnosis, to paying your bill, to learning about new techniques or therapies. This data is, as Neupert points out, a critical asset in improving healthcare.

But as we move toward that future, one in which the healthcare of the patient trumps ideas about data ownership or competitive advantage, we need to keep in mind the broad array of languages and cultures that must be served to be truly effective.

The move by a number of institutions to allow patients access to their data and personally controlled health data repositories will only be as meaningful as the steps they take to ensure that that data is delivered in a language the patient understands.

Good health!

Interest in healthcare translation services continues to rise

Reduced quality of care, adverse health outcomes, and health disparities can persist unless communication barriers are addressed in the delivery of health services. In fact, more than 23 million Americans have limited English proficiency (LEP), which leads to a plethora of healthcare challenges.

A new policy brief from independent research firm, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., assesses emerging national efforts to address language barriers and looks specifically at three states — California, Minnesota, and New York. The study highlights challenges, successes, and implications for future policy and activities related to providing language services.

According to Mathematica, in 2008 all 50 states had at least two laws in place for providing these services in healthcare settings, up from 43 states in 2006. However, the laws vary greatly. California, Minnesota, and New York have been at the forefront of these efforts and are considered leaders in providing language services.

The study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and written by Au, Erin Fries Taylor, and Marsha Gold. To learn more, check out the study here: “Improving Access to Language Services in Health Care: A Look at National and State Efforts.”

Good health!