May 18 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of clear communications in the healthcare space. With rapidly changing information and guidance as the body of research about the virus has grown, many people have found it challenging to keep up. Medical professionals have had to find new ways to communicate with their patients, colleagues, and the public.
As we start to emerge from the pandemic and back towards normal life, effective communication must remain a priority if healthcare providers want to offer the best patient care possible. This might mean you will need to translate information in various ways so that your patients can understand it.
Why Patient Communication Matters
Patients can only receive the best care in hospital and other healthcare settings if they fully understand everything that is happening, the advice they are receiving, and the implications of what they are being told by their healthcare professionals. Poor understanding leads to poorer health outcomes.
The patient must be able to accurately report their symptoms and health complaints to their provider in order to obtain appropriate advice and treatment. They need to understand the treatment plans being offered so that they are able to give informed consent. And, in order to mitigate recurring health problems, patients need to be able to understand providers’ advice about preventative methods to improve their health.
Similarly, if the patient cannot accurately communicate their needs and problems, the provider may make mistakes. This could result in misdiagnosis, prescribing inappropriate medications, or missing a warning sign for an emergency that requires urgent intervention.
For the provider, effective communication is also vital in securing high HCAHPS hospital scores. HCAHPS is a standardized national survey reporting on patients’ experience of care in hospitals. Patients’ experience of communication with doctors and nurses form an important part of the HCAHPS survey, and over 3 million patients participate each year.
The Barriers to Patient Communication
There are numerous barriers to effective patient communication in healthcare settings. Healthcare literacy (someone’s baseline knowledge about health), general literacy (the ability to read and understand the written word), cultural competency (patients’ and providers’ ability to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds to their own), and language barriers are just some of the most common reasons for communication to be challenging.
Healthcare professionals sometimes make the mistake of forgetting that not everyone shares their level of knowledge. Using jargon or complex medical terminology, or otherwise not taking into account the patient’s degree of medical literacy, can seriously hamper communication and treatment.
Patients with disabilities, particularly deaf or blind patients, are also likely to experience additional barriers to communication.
In the next section, we will explore hospital translation methods and how they can help to improve patient care.
What is Hospital Translation?
In languages, translation is the process of changing words from one language to another so that people who do not speak the first language can understand the content.
We can take a more expansive view of translation and consider it as being any way of delivering information in a way that the patient is able to understand. This will look slightly different for different groups of patients, depending upon needs.
Translation Needs in Hospital
Hospital translation can take different forms and individual needs will vary. Here are several types of translation and communication services you may wish to implement to improve patient communications as we emerge from the pandemic.
Translation Services for Non-English Speaking Patients
There are at least 350 languages currently being spoken in the United States. This means that you will regularly treat patients at your hospital for whom English is not their first language.
Apart from English, the most spoken languages in the United States are Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese,) Tagalog, French, and Vietnamese. While you cannot necessarily provide hospital translation services in hundreds of languages, you should ensure that you have hospital forms, informational documents, and other hospital collateral available in the most common languages in your area.
You should also have a system in place for when you encounter a patient who speaks a less common language. For example, you might need to bring in a professional interpreter to ensure that the patient can understand you, explain their needs and symptoms, and receive the care they deserve. Ensure your staff know where to access translation services should the need arise.
Braille is a tactile (touch-based) writing and reading system for people who are blind or visually impaired. Traditional Braille uses embossed paper, but paperless Braille or refreshable Braille display devices now allow Braille users to read from a digital screen.
Braille is much less widely used today than it used to be, thanks to the advent of other assistive technologies such as screen readers. In 2012, the National Federation for the Blind estimated that only one in ten legally blind people could read Braille.
However, Braille resources are still an important accessibility resource in healthcare settings. Braille versions of hospital forms, informational documents, and other hospital collateral should be available for blind patients on request.
Clear and Effective Hospital Signage
Hospitals can be vast sites with many different buildings and departments. It is vital that patients can find their way around quickly and easily. Therefore, clear and effective hospital signage is an important part of strong patient communication.
Poor quality signage, or signage that is hard to understand or inconsistently used, will significantly impact the patient experience. Going into hospital is already a stressful experience for many people, and feeling lost or being unable to find the right room or department will make it even more difficult.
Ensure that signs are clearly visible and use easy to read text in a sufficiently large typeface. They must also feature simple, plain English wording, not complex medical terminology. If your area has a large number of speakers of a particular language, consider providing dual language hospital signage.
Signs should contain as few words as possible to convey the necessary information. Any accompanying imagery must be both relevant and culturally sensitive.
Easy to Read Badges
It is likely that the staff in your hospital wear badges which state their name, position, and possibly other relevant information. These badges should contain text that is large enough to read easily, and in an accessible font. You should also pay attention to the chosen color scheme—some are easier to read than others. Pale colored text is particularly difficult to read, as are color schemes that clash.
Name badges help to build a connection between the patient and the provider. Simply knowing your name can make a patient feel more comfortable. They also help patients to understand the job or specialty of the person they are speaking to.
Hospitals can be unfamiliar and even frightening environments to people who don’t visit them often. Badges also allow patients to find the right person to speak to. Being able to easily identify a nurse, a doctor, or an administrator can go a long way towards easing stress and helping patients feel comfortable.
Need Help with Your Collateral?
Do you need support with your hospital signate, form printing, name badges, or any other collateral to improve the patient experience at your hospital? We can assist with all of this and more to ensure that your patients receive the highest quality communications, no matter what their particular needs.
Give us a call on (800) 836-7714 or get in touch via our website, and the friendly team at Hygrade will be pleased to advise on how we can help.