Joint Commission to Release Communication, Language Standards to Encourage Health Equity

Heather Comak, April 20, 2010

The Joint Commission will be releasing new standards for hospitals surrounding language, culture, and communication in the January 2011 hospital manual.

The standards, announced in the January 2010 Perspectives on The Joint Commission, will be accompanied by a Web-based, downloadable guide, which will be released in late May. Hospitals will be able to view the standards at this time, and although they will be included in the 2011 hospital manual and part of a survey, they will not be factored into a hospital's accreditation at that time, said Paul Schyve, MD, senior vice president at The Joint Commission, who spoke on a Webcast entitled New Joint Commission Standards to Improve Patient-Provider Communication on April 16.

"We realized that there were more barriers to effective, safe care and communication than just culture, and just language," said Schyve.

To develop the standards, The Joint Commission put together a technical expert panel (TEP) of people involved in many different areas of healthcare, as well as other areas of society. The panel addressed three areas:

  • Effective communication—Identifying needs and providing language services for those patients who need them.

  • Data collection and use—How to collect demographic data of patients and using it for performance improvement.

  • Address specific patient needs—Ensuring patient and family involvement, equitable treatment, and addressing cultural and spiritual beliefs.

Specifically, new to the standards will be requirements involving identification and documentation of oral and written communication needs of a patient, and the patient's preferred language for discussing healthcare. This goes beyond language, and includes glasses, hearing aids, and communication boards for intubated patients. Additionally, the patient's and his or her advocate's preferred language should also be documented in the medical record.

"Think broadly about the different barriers to communication and how you might need to address them for any specific patient, and be prepared with any equipment and so on for patients with that particular kind of problem," said Schyve.

Other additions include the need to formally train interpreters, as not all people who are bilingual are trained in medical terminology. These qualifications must be evaluated and met through assessment, education, training, and experience, as deemed acceptable by the facility.

Heather Comak Heather Comak is a Managing Editor at HCPro, Inc., where she is the editor of the monthly publication Briefings on Patient Safety, as well as patient safety-related books and audio conferences. She is also is the Assistant Director of the Association for Healthcare Accreditation Professionals. Contact Heather by e-mailing
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