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Does Phone vs. Video vs. In-Person Interpretation Impact Satisfaction?

Published on November 26, 2019 by Graham Newnum

 Dr Patient Blue Phone

A 2018 review (entitled Patient Satisfaction of Telephone or Video Interpreter Services Compared with In-Person Services) collected results from eight separate studies. Each sought to compare patient satisfaction with phone or video interpretation to that of an on-site interpreter.

Patient satisfaction and its subsequent HCAHPS scores - represents a critical metric for hospitals and healthcare organizations. Understanding how language services impact patient satisfaction (and how different interpreter modalities alter this impact) is critical for healthcare language services professionals.

Some relevant findings from PubMed’s review:

1. Higher satisfaction with hospital-trained interpreters compared with ad hoc (friend or family)

Providers may worry that refusing to allow patients to use their friends and family as interpreters could upset them; in fact, research revealed that using professional interpreters correlated more highly with patient satisfaction than did utilizing ad hoc individuals. That's a relieve for hospital leadership, since Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act requires providers to use qualified interpreters for every limited-English proficient (LEP) patient encounter, stating that patient friends and family should not act as interpreters.

The study that produced this finding focused initially on comparing the performance of on-site interpreters to that of patient friends and family. Predictably, the deciding factor was training: those who had it outperformed their “amateur” counterparts, leaving patients more satisfied.

2. No difference in satisfaction between in-person interpreting, telephone interpreting, or interpretation provided by the treating bilingual physician

Providers have long recognized the convenience and cost-effectiveness of supplementing their in-person interpreters with phone interpretation services from partners like CyraCom. These services enable hospitals and healthcare organizations to:

- Access interpreters in seconds

- Care for patients who speak languages too rare to justify a full-time staff interpreter

- Avoid the cost of bringing in on-site interpreters with two-hour billing minimums for a five-minute patient conversation

Now, providers can take comfort in knowing that patients appear equally satisfied with a phone interpreter when compared to in-person interpreters and bilingual staff. This information may help persuade bilingual physicians who have not met the standards for qualification outlined in Section 1557 to stop acting as interpreters themselves.

3. Video interpreting left patients as satisfied as in-person interpreting

Like phone interpretation, video interpretation enables providers to connect to a live interpreter in seconds, without waiting for someone to arrive in person from off-site or paying for more interpreter time than the patient actually needs. And video interpretation, with its added visual component, can substitute for on-site interpreters in scenarios where phone interpretation alone wouldn’t suffice. The review confirms that patients are no less satisfied with video interpretation as compared to on-site options.

The PubMed review findings build on what we already know: that access to interpreters improves the patient experience for LEP patients. We can now add the fact that patient end up more satisfied with trained interpreters than they would be using friends and family to communicate, and that interpreter modality – phone vs. video vs. on-site – does not appear to impact patient satisfaction in a measurable way. This leaves language services leaders in a position to advocate for the use of professional interpreters, and to utilize the interpreter modality which best fits each individual situation.

Want to learn more about how quality language access solutions impact patient satisfaction? Take a look at our whitepaper:

Download HCAHPS Whitepaper