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At an academic medical center where patients come from all over the world to receive care, BWH Interpreter Services is in high demand. Last year alone, the department helped more than 50,000 patients communicate with their care providers in Spanish, Russian Portuguese/Cape Verdean, Somali, Chinese, Haitian-Creole/French, Korean, Italian and American Sign Language, among other languages.
With so many patients in need of service, the department is piloting a new video-conferencing tool to help reduce scheduling conflicts that may prevent interpreters from attending patient appointments in person.
“It’s not unusual for interpreters to travel from one location to another throughout the distributed campus and wait to serve our patients,” said Interpreter Service Director Yilu Ma. “With this new video conferencing feature, we will be able to expand our services by eliminating the travel and wait time in certain instances.”
The pilot will begin later this month for weekday morning appointments with Spanish-speaking patients at outpatient practices. For these appointments, an interpreter may use a video-conferencing device set up in the Interpreter Services department. The device connects to a video-conferencing cart at the outpatient location, enabling the interpreter to see both the physician and patient. This is crucial for reading non-verbal cues, says Ma.
“Interpreters can see whether a patient is confused or concerned, just as if they were there in person,” he said.
This is the major benefit of the video conferencing service over a telephone service, which Interpreter Services currently uses as a back-up option if there is a scheduling conflict.
Providing an interpreter is a key component of delivering the best care to patients, and it will be one aspect of care that The Joint Commission examines when it arrives for an unannounced survey between now and Feb. 6, 2013.
According to a new Joint Commission communication standard, hospitals must ensure that all patients can receive appropriate information about their care in their native language and that care providers identify each patient’s communication needs and document interpreters’ proficiency and training.
“It’s not only a Joint Commission standard, but it’s also a best practice to use professional interpreters, as opposed to a patient’s family member, so that we can ensure patients receive accurate information about their care,” said Ma. “We’re hopeful that this video-conferencing service will enhance the way we care for our patients.”