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How Telehealth Can Bridge the Communication Gap With Patients

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   December 07, 2021

With a patient population that might know more than 350 different languages, healthcare organizations like Yale New Haven Health are turning to telehealth to make sure their care teams and patients are communicating with each other.

Healthcare organizations are turning to telehealth to help medical staff communicate with patients who speak a language other than English.

Bogged down by the challenges of finding on-demand interpreters who know everything from Spanish to Mandarin, the Yale New Haven Health System (YNHHS) recently partnered with UpHealth, a Florida-based telehealth company focused on patient engagement. The health system has since deployed more than 1,000 of the company’s Martti telehealth devices across the network, allowing staff to converse with patients in more than 250 languages.

“The ability for healthcare providers to communicate clearly and effectively with people of all backgrounds and cultures is critical,” Tina Bennett, Yale New Haven’s interim chief experience officer, said in a press release. “Martti’s interpretation ability helps ensure that our patients are understood by the clinical team and that they understand what is going on with their and their loved ones’ healthcare.”

Roughly 1 in 11 Americans, or 25 million people, are classified as having limited English proficiency – and, just as problematic, there are more than 350 languages that that could be conversant in. They run the risk of not being able to convey their concerns properly to doctors and nurses, and not understanding their diagnoses or treatments.

The value of communication in front-line healthcare is well-known, and made even more so by the onset of the pandemic. In Boston, Brigham and Women’s Hospital estimated that during the early days of COVID-19, patients who didn’t speak English had a 35 percent higher chance of dying because they weren’t able to communicate properly with care providers.

With more than 3.8 million patient encounters a year in a highly diverse, urban area, YNHHS needs far more than a staff of multilingual care providers. Through a telehealth platform, care teams and patients can connect in real-time to translation services in the correct language. And while the service ensures that diagnoses and treatments are understood, it also goes a long way toward boosting patient engagement and improving patient satisfaction scores.

Eric Wicklund is the Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.

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