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Joint Commission Standards for Qualified Interpretation

Published on July 16, 2019 by Graham Newnum

Joint Commission Survey

At CyraCom's 2018 New York roundtable, Joint Commission Project Director Christina Cordero, briefed local language services leaders, highlighting the Commission’s increased focus on health equity issues.

Emphasizing language access for limited-English proficient (LEP) patients fits the Joint Commission’s vision statement: helping “All people always experience the safest, highest quality, best-value health care across all settings."

The Commission works to make that vision a reality by conducting unannounced surveys on US hospitals every 18-36 months, observing hospital operations to check for compliance with Commission standards.

Dr. Cordero discussed a number of Joint Commission standards which require the use of qualified, professional interpreters to achieve compliance while treating LEP patients. Here are five of the most relevant standards:

1. Right to Effective Communication

Miscommunications in healthcare can cost lives, diminish patient satisfaction, and lead to unnecessary readmission if patients misunderstand aftercare instructions. To prevent these outcomes, the Joint Commission requires the provision of effective communication for every patient, including the 65 million Americans who speak a language other than English at home.

2. Provision of Language Services

Like compliance with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, Joint Commission accreditation requires hospitals to provide their LEP patients with access to language services. The Commission doesn’t require particular methods or standards for the provision of interpreters; rather, Dr. Cordero recommended referring back to the “effective communication” standard when in doubt.

3. Informed Consent and Patient Participation in Care

This standard requires patients to understand both their condition and the proposed treatment. For LEP patients, that includes providing the information in a language they understand via qualified interpreters – preferably those with training in medical terminology and scenarios.

4. Qualifications for Language Interpreters and Translators

The Joint Commission requires accredited hospitals to hold language interpreters and translators working within their organization to a consistent set of qualifications and standards. These apply to staff interpreters, bilingual staff members who wish to serve as interpreters, and interpreters provided by outside partners like CyraCom.

The Commission does not mandate a particular standard of interpreter qualifications; instead, surveyors focus on whether the hospital is adhering to its own standards as written.

5. Contracted Services Provided Safely and Effectively

Joint Commission standards hold hospitals responsible for the performance of any outside vendors whose services they use. In the context of language services, this means any outside interpreters brought into the hospital – whether on site or via phone or video interpretation – must possess the training and qualifications necessary to perform interpretation safely and effectively.

The bottom line: compliance with Joint Commission standards for treating LEP patients likely means partnering with a qualified, professional language services provider. 

Take a look at our Executive Priorities whitepaper to learn more about the benefits of this kind of partnership:

Executive Priorities in Healthcare