Increasing Patient Satisfaction in 150 Languages

Interpreter Services are available at The University of Kansas HospitalThe University of Kansas Hospital is situated in the Heartland, but its patient population reflects the nation's immense diversity.

Consider the hospital's Interpreter Services, which helps patients on the main campus communicate effectively with staff.

In 2004, the department provided 17,726 face-to-face interpretations. The top languages were Spanish (90 percent), American Sign Language (4 percent), Russian (4 percent), Mandarin (4 percent) and Farsi (4 percent).

By 2015 the number of interpretations had climbed to 30,000. Top languages are now Spanish (80 percent), Burmese (6 percent), American Sign Language (3 percent), Nepali (2.3 percent) and Russian (2 percent). You'll also hear some Somali, Swahili, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Arabic.

"We'll continue to see a significant shift in requests for more languages, reflecting the diversity and changing demographics of our patient population," said Cecilia Abbey, who leads Interpreter Services.

Formed in 1997, the department encompasses more than 40 staff and contract interpreters who provide the majority of face-to-face Spanish, American Sign Language, Burmese and Nepali interpretations for our patients.

For access to approximately 150 other languages, hospital caregivers can pick up a phone round-the-clock for near-instant connection to external interpreters. In addition to speech (interpreting), staff receive written (translating) support.

"I remember when we didn't have full-time Spanish interpreter availability or access to telephone interpreters," said Mike Carroll, nurse practitioner in the Emergency Department. "The change for both those services has been a huge help to our patients and providers."

Interpreter services in recent months has tested Video Remote Interpreters in several locations. The technology – some refer to it as "WALL-E" or "interpreter on a stick" – consists of an iPad attached to a mile unit. Self-contained, mobile and wireless, it provides access to American Sign Language with a limited number of spoken languages.

Abbey notes hospital policy requires the use of qualified interpreters. Using family and friends as ad hoc interpreters is discouraged.

"Trained and qualified interpreters increase patient safety and patient satisfaction," she said. "We also can increase the therapeutic relationship between patient and provider and take a little of the fear out of hospitalization."