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doctor with pregnant patient

As we celebrate National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 8, let’s look at how language services support and provide access for LEP women.

Language services in healthcare

Section 1557 of the ACA requires healthcare organizations to provide interpretation services and translated documents for LEP patients. Despite these legal requirements, studies show that communication barriers in healthcare lead to a greater chance of extended-stay hospitalizations, misdiagnosis, and medical errors for LEP patients. As recently as 2016, 1-in-3 hospitals failed to offer interpreters to LEP patients.

How does this affect LEP women?

Maternity care is one of the top reasons women are hospitalized. Sadly, LEP mothers are more likely to have high-risk deliveries and have double the risk of obstetric trauma.

Opportunities for improvement

Healthcare facilities can improve patient safety by enhancing their communication strategies and implementing language services. Working with interpreters at every stage of care can help LEP mothers build trust in their healthcare providers.

Prenatal care and patient confidence

For many LEP people, scheduling an appointment is the first obstacle to receiving treatment. Offering multilingual options to automated systems can increase preventative care for LEP individuals. Providers can then support their patients throughout the entire prenatal journey. They can explain ultrasound and other test results and preventative care in a language their patients understand.

Prenatal, birth, and postpartum support

It can be hard to remember everything regarding prenatal, birth, and postpartum infant care in the moments around welcoming your newborn. Providers can help by developing or maintaining a collection of translated materials that LEP women can take home with them. These translated documents can cover common postpartum conditions, what to expect, and how to make healthy choices for themselves and their children.

Child-rearing in a foreign country

Foreign-born Hispanic and Asian mothers report more stress than white mothers, mostly due to structural disadvantages. In particular, “poor English proficiency tends to relate to fewer resources for immigrant mothers, as language barriers prevent mothers […] from getting involved in their children’s school lives and adjusting to US norms.”

Interpreters act as cultural brokers when there are cultural-based misunderstandings. They can help explain US norms for LEP mothers and the LEP person’s norms for providers or school officials. Translation and localization services also consider cultural differences when translating materials to make sure the messaging is clear and understandable.

Unbiased, third-party interpreters are also important when the child is bilingual – it prevents the child from assuming the heavy role as interpreter and translator for their parent.

Learn more about using quality language services in healthcare at

Lindsay Lawson

Lindsay Lawson

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in interpreting and translation services, how language works.