Standard 5: Notices to Patients/Consumers of the Right to Language Assistance Services (mandate)

“Health care organizations must provide to patients/consumers in their preferred language
both verbal offers and written notices informing them of their right to receive language assistance services.”

Notices of Rights to Language Assistance
Many LEP patients may find it challenging to access language services, even at a facility where they are available. Unfortunately, the availability of language services does not guarantee that they will be used when needed, since many LEP individuals may hesitate to ask a provider to supply an interpreter.

Healthcare organizations should inform individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP)—in a language they can understand—of their right to free language services and of the availability of such services. This means that healthcare organizations need to distribute written notices and post translated signage with this information and should ask each patient about his or her preferred language and enter this information into the patient’s record.

Healthcare organizations around the country have developed innovative ways to publicize the availability of their language services:

  • A wall sign with tear-off cards in many different languages, which the patient can then hand to a staff member, who can contact interpreter services
  • Automatically assigning new patients an interpreter skilled in their birth language, with the interpreter appearing at each visit unless the first one reveals that interpreter services are not needed
  • Bilingual wallet cards—available at some community-based organizations—informing the holder and any provider who receives it that the card’s bearer is legally entitled to interpreter services

Whenever possible, healthcare organizations should make signs and notices about language assistance services available at all major points of entry and discharge. This information should also be available at the various places where patients are likely to interact with staff, such as the pharmacy, laboratories, emergency room triage, and billing office.

Staff members of healthcare organizations should receive instruction in Title VI and other legal responsibilities and institutional procedures for securing interpreter/bilingual assistance. Equipped with such training, staff can respond promptly to any need for language assistance that arises due to patient signage or notices.

The National Health Law Program, a public interest law firm, offers a wealth of publications and other information regarding access to quality healthcare services. A valuable foundation can be found in their publication, Language Access in Health Care Statement of Principles. [Martinez EL, Hitov S, Youdelman M. Language Access in Health Care Statement of Principles: Explanatory Guide. National Health Law Program; Los Angeles, California; 2006.]





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