Health equity and language access

Individual Author(s) / Organizational Author
Baruch, Erica
Walker, Sherry
The Colorado Trust
July 2023
Abstract / Description

The provision of accessible and meaningful language services to individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) is a key component of health equity. For the growing hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who struggle with language barriers, the obstacles to obtaining good medical care can be overwhelming and the cost of inadequate language services huge. Efforts to improve language access make up a critical part of the work needed to reduce existing health disparities. This paper looks at how language access issues affect patients, policymakers and health care providers. Specifically, the paper: 

Examines the importance of language access in health care. Language barriers compromise quality of care and patient safety. They affect patient satisfaction and whether or not patients will return to a particular health care institution. They can result in higher health care costs from inefficiencies such as unnecessary testing of patients with whom providers can’t communicate. They can frustrate providers who want to serve all patients equally and to the best of their abilities. 

Provides policymakers with an overview of existing legal requirements and additional policy opportunities for consideration. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands requirements and offers opportunities for further improvement of language access. Colorado is eligible to receive a 50 percent match from the federal government for offering language services to Medicaid patients. Programs such as financial assistance for bilingual students entering the health care field can provide other opportunities for policymakers to address language access issues. 

Offers health care providers approaches to improve language access. Strategies such as creating a language access policy have been found to help organizations avoid pitfalls and standardize quality of care. The process for assessing needs and improving services can be undertaken one step at a time, beginning with collecting data on patients’ language preferences and the local LEP population. Additionally, case studies detail how some Colorado organizations have made strides in improving language access. These examples, provided by grantees of The Colorado Trust’s Equality in Health initiative, illustrate how strategies tailored to an organization’s unique context, resources and needs can result in significant advances. Health service organizations and policymakers can use the information in this paper to guide future efforts and assure all Coloradans receive quality, equitable health care. (author abstract) 

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