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Translations and Interpreting as Part of Telehealth

Telehealth information translations refer to the process of translating healthcare-related content and materials used in telehealth services into different languages. Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, involves the delivery of healthcare services remotely using telecommunications technology, such as video calls, phone consultations, or online platforms.

The need for telehealth information translations arises due to the increasing demand for healthcare services from individuals who speak languages other than the primary language used by the healthcare provider or the telehealth platform. Effective communication is vital in telehealth to ensure that patients understand their medical conditions, treatment plans, and instructions accurately.

A doctor watches a patient describe symptoms on her laptop screenThe importance of telehealth information translations may not be as obvious as the involvement of an interpreter for a telemedicine appointment, but this resource should not be overlooked. Of course including an interpreter via video remote technology can help overcome a language barrier, and having a qualified interpreter is an integral part of ensuring successful outcomes of telemedicine for patients with limited English proficiency. However, there are considerations outside of the appointment itself that need to be made to allow patients with limited English proficiency to take full advantage of remote medical appointments.

Making the Most of Telehealth

While the concepts of telehealth, telemedicine and “virtual visits” are not necessarily anything new, attempts to curb transmission of COVID-19 across the US have resulted in a surge in the use of this technology. Given the traditional face-to-face medical attention that most people today are accustomed to, even the most tech-savvy individuals may need a bit of extra guidance when it comes to utilizing telehealth. And a variety of factors can increase that need for guidance, such as limited technology literacy or English proficiency. This is where telehealth information translations can come in.

A checklist on a clipboard with a stethoscopeThe Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) has written a checklist to help patients new to telemedicine “take full advantage of [their] telehealth visit.” The items on the list include writing down any current or recent symptoms and any vital signs that you are able to check at home, such as temperature or blood pressure. They also include technology checks, like making sure the device you plan to use has a fully charged battery and, if your healthcare provider will be seeing you via a mobile application, that you have sufficient memory and have downloaded the app ahead of time. The checklist also gives advice for what to say and do during the call, such as identifying yourself at the beginning of the appointment by your first and last name. The idea behind these suggestions is to help ensure that a virtual visit is as effective as an in-person one. And in the same way that patients with limited English proficiency get more out of their in-person appointments when services are culturally and linguistically appropriate, translating these guidelines into patients’ first language can help them get the most out of telemedicine, too.

A laptop with a green check markThere is also a myriad of articles online about how providers can make the most of telemedicine, and some of the information they include could also be applicable to patients. The Telehealth Resource Center, for example, has published a Telehealth Etiquette Checklist geared towards healthcare providers. The first item on the checklist, “Test the equipment,” may or may not be applicable to patients, depending on whether they are given access to the telemedicine platform ahead of their appointment. Having patients test their device’s microphone, speakers, and camera, however, would be important to do ahead of time to ensure that they can be seen and heard and hear the doctor properly.

“Know where to get technical assistance” is another checklist item that patients can benefit from as well as providers. If a patient cannot determine how to access the video platform or has technical difficulties, how will the appointment take place at all? Knowing how to utilize the technology used for virtual visits is key to their success, and knowing how to troubleshoot or report an issue is also relevant to both parties. Providing telehealth information translations regarding technical instructions and troubleshooting help ensure a smooth process for all involved, with less wasted time and frustration on both ends.

Cultural Competence and Telehealth Information Translations

It’s also important to recognize that the concept of telemedicine may not “sit right” with certain patients. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that “some patients and health care workers resist adopting service models that differ from traditional approaches or indigenous practices.” This statement is supported by results from a WHO global survey in which culture was the third-most prevalent barrier reported to implementing telemedicine. We’ve written numerous times about culturally competent care in healthcare, and this case highlights the importance of telehealth information translations that are not only linguistically accurate, but culturally relevant as well. Cultural competency also comes in with health literacy and one of the tools in its toolbox, Plain Language Writing.  Make sure your instructions are written for limited literacy. That is an initiative to begin in the English content before the foreign language translations of that content. In our work in healthcare translations and health literacy, we work to ensure understanding for the end audience.

Final Thoughts

A bill of sale, a cellphone, and a dollar billFinally, insurance coverage is another topic mentioned frequently in literature on telemedicine. Whether or not a virtual visit will be covered by insurance, at what level, and with what type of copay are all questions that patients should have answered before choosing to set up their next appointment. If you are a doctor’s office, providing details about every single insurance plan’s coverage of telemedicine is likely unfeasible. You may save yourself and your patients time and headache, however, by including a statement in your telemedicine information materials about the importance of verifying insurance coverage for a virtual visit before scheduling one. We have extensive experience with both healthcare translations and HR materials and our teams are well-versed on language around insurance coverage in the US.

Even though telehealth allows for greater access to certain healthcare functions without leaving home, there are still a lot of moving parts. Information about getting the most out of a virtual doctor’s visit, web platform and mobile application functionality, and insurance policies all contribute to more successful outcomes for telemedicine. A study posted by the National Institutes of Health suggests that “at the very least patients and providers need to be educated about what to expect when various technologies are used – what is feasible and appropriate and what the limitations are.” Whether you’re a doctor’s office or an HR representative looking to provide patients or employees with limited English proficiency more information about telemedicine, we can help!