Providing Mental Health Services to Limited English Proficiency Patients

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By David Fetterolf

Mental health is incredibly important to overall health, preservation, and happiness. An untreated mental disorder can affect someone’s relationships, work performance, and even physical health. In order to treat and manage mental health illnesses and disorders, patients and providers must communicate effectively. In fact, it is almost impossible to diagnose and treat mental illness without effective patient/provider communication.

So what happens to mental health patients who do not speak English? How can someone suffering from anxiety, depression, or a host of other mental disorders describe their symptoms if they do not speak the same language as their doctor? Unfortunately, limited English proficiency (LEP) patients suffer when it comes to accessing mental health services, with studies showing that LEP patients generally have less access than their English speaking counter-parts. They also undergo a longer duration of time with untreated disorders. (1)

In order for healthcare providers to effectively treat this marginalized group of mental health patients, medically qualified interpretation must be provided.



The importance of using a medically qualified interpreter:

When it comes to interpreting within the healthcare industry, not just anyone can do it. Professional interpreters are trained to act as a neutral third party when it comes to facilitating healthcare communication. Medically qualified interpreters are trained in the jargon and vernacular of the healthcare industry, and they often hold national or state level certifications.

Untrained or chosen-in-the-moment interpreters are referred to as ad hoc interpreters, and it is both dangerous an illegal for healthcare facilities to rely on ad hoc interpretation for patient/provider communication. Imagine asking a spouse to interpreter while their partner describes how that spouse’s behavior contributes to their anxiety or depression. In fact, studies have shown that reliance on ad hoc interpretation can have adverse effects on patient outcomes. (2)

Providing medically qualified interpreters:

Fortunately, there are several ways to provide quality interpretive services so that ad hoc interpreters are not used. There are three generally accepted modalities for providing interpretive services within healthcare:

  • Over-the-Phone Interpretation
  • Video Remote Interpretation
  • Onsite Interpretation

When it comes to discussing, diagnosing, and treating LEP patients with mental illness, onsite interpreters are generally the best choice. The physical co-presence of an onsite interpreter can help facilitate and empathetic connection between the patient, interpreter, and provider, which is important for sensitive conversations. Onsite interpreters are particularly effective within group therapy sessions, as situational understanding is not limited to what they can hear over the phone or what they can see through an iPad’s camera. 

Constantly changing schedules and hefty agency premiums can make it challenging and expensive to provide onsite interpretation, but fortunately there is now a solution; a product called Stratus InPerson, provided by language access provider Stratus Video.

The Benefits of Stratus InPerson

Stratus InPerson is a revolutionary interpreter scheduling system that connects healthcare professionals with local on site interpreters directly. All interpreters are pre-vetted and qualified by Stratus Video, and invoicing and payment is all handled through the same, easy-to-use portal.

To schedule an interpreter through Stratus InPerson, a scheduler simply logs in to the online portal and sends out a request, a lot like calling a car with Uber. Once the interpreter arrives onsite, they simply “check-in” through their mobile Stratus InPerson app, and the session can commence.

By streamlining the onsite interpreter scheduling process, Stratus Video has made it easy to provide onsite interpreters for all LEP mental health patients.

Summary

Mental health services are monumentally important regardless of the primary language you speak. With Stratus InPerson, healthcare facilities can provide medically qualified onsite interpreters quickly and easily, ensuring that conversations and care can continue unimpeded.

David Fetterolf is president of Stratus Video.

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