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How Language Services May Improve Surgical Outcomes

Published on March 14, 2016 by Graham Newnum

Language Services Improve Patient Outcomes

As a language services professional, you know the value your department adds to your organization. But you may not have considered the variety of ways in which what you do truly matters. Maybe you’re seeking to expand your program or avoid potential cuts. Maybe you need to change language services providers and need your administration to look at more than just per-minute price when choosing a replacement. Contributing to more successful surgeries demonstrates the value and effectiveness of language services in a concrete and tangible way.

The CDC reports that Americans undergo more than 50 million surgeries a year and, statistically, one in five of these patients speaks a language other than English at home.

Language barriers complicate millions of surgeries annually – surgeries that are already intimidating and complex from a patient perspective. A quality language services program may enable hospitals to put their Limited-English Proficient (LEP) patients more at ease and improve outcomes and efficiencies at each stage in the surgical process, leading to more successful surgeries:


The Institute of Medicine recently estimated that diagnostic errors affect at least 12 million adults each year in the US, and LEP patients face increased risk. That makes using a trained, professional interpreter during these appointments critical – it may reduce risk and ensures that doctors truly understand their patients’ situations prior to diagnosis.


In a recent interview for CyraCom’s case study with Steward Healthcare, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Interpreter Services Carla Fogaren explained how using phone interpretation improved their pre-surgical consults and increased the rate at which LEP patients went through with their surgeries.

“Our experience using language services was ’Oh my, I can actually do an informed consent for surgery with this patient in my office, instead of five minutes before surgery in the hospital with a hospital interpreter.’ No one should be reading those consent forms five minutes before surgery; they tell you the worst things that could possibly happen. If you were informed two weeks before and you have time to ask questions, you’re much calmer the day of the surgery,” Fogaren explained.


During post-surgery hospitalization, ongoing patient communication plays a key role. Steward’s language services team sends staff interpreters to do rounds on LEP patients daily with the clinical staff to ensure  they understand their care and have what they need. They also place a CyraCom dual handset Blue Phone in the room for every patient who is admitted with a non-English language preference. This way, hospital staff can access a phone interpreter from each room, improving the chances for successful surgeries.


Unnecessary patient readmissions now impact Medicare reimbursement, making them a critical metric for hospitals, and improving readmission rates means discharging every patient with a complete understanding of their aftercare needs – medication, home care, or follow-up appointments. Providing verbal instructions in a patient’s native language and translating take-home documents may lessen the likelihood of a mistake or misunderstanding leading to readmission.

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