Language Access Alert: Changes Proposed for the ACA Section 1557

July 31, 2019

Written By: By Lauren Werstler, NIC, CoreCHI, Language Service Advocacy Specialist and Tatiana Cestari, PhD, CHI, Director of Language Service Advocacy

We believe in equal access to communication and quality healthcare for all. With this in mind, we would like to provide information about The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) proposed changes to Section 1557 that would change its scope and could impact the healthcare community.

Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the civil rights extension of nondiscrimination protection to persons participating in healthcare programs/activities receiving funding from HHS, programs/activities administered by HHS, and to all plans offered by issuers through Health Insurance Marketplaces.

Some of the provisions HHS is proposing to change include those regarding:

  • Taglines, notices, and language access plans
  • Compliance coordinator requirements and written grievance procedures
  • Enforcement-related provisions and changes remedies
  • The role insurance companies play in providing language access
  • Remote video interpreting service requirements, making them more closely resemble those for audio-only services

We believe that these changes may limit access to quality health services and create additional cultural and linguistic barriers for non-English speakers. In addition, healthcare providers would lose guidance on providing language access and blur the lines of what defines discrimination.

Added communication barriers increase the risk of miscommunications, leading to less effective treatment, higher readmissions rates, and less successful outcomes for all.

It is important to note that should these proposed changes become regulation, the relevant provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 will remain. Additionally, Video Remote Interpretation requirements for Deaf/Hard of Hearing persons as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act would not be affected by the proposed changes.

We strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with these proposed changes and how they could impact your organization. As part of the process to review the proposed changes, members of the public have the opportunity to share your comments and concerns with HHS.

HHS is accepting comments through August 13, 2019. Comments can be made electronically at by searching for the Docket ID number HHS-OCR-2019-0007. Comments including the ‘why’ and ‘how’ along with detailed information are most beneficial in making a positive impact.

Why Speaking the Language Isn’t Enough: How Interpreter Location Affects Interpretations

June 25, 2019

Written By: By Tatiana Cestari, PhD, CHITM, Director of Language Service Advocacy

Being bilingual and trained in healthcare interpretation are the cornerstone requirements to perform as a medical interpreter. However, it’s also necessary to possess certain other skills, which are pivotal in each encounter, such as: having an attitude of service to patients and providers while maintaining the interpreting profession’s boundaries; being culturally aware; understanding the ethics and standards of practice that rule this profession; knowing how the US healthcare system and insurance/billing process work; and knowing idioms and regionalisms or how to recognize them.

Since we understand the impact of our services, we follow a model in which interpreters are based in the US. Over the years, we have identified crucial implications regarding the location of video or audio interpreters:

A. Customs and Cultural Aspects

Remote interpreting raises the issue of how flexible interpreters can be when it comes to knowing location-specific customs, terminology and idioms, and cultural differences of where the physician or provider of care resides when delivering their services.

Coming from a Latin American country that has a healthcare system very different from the US, I have had to learn about the US system as a patient, provider, and interpreter. Having that familiarity with the US healthcare system has helped me tremendously in my interpretations. Many examples on this topic come to mind. It is common to interpret for a patient or a parent asking the doctor “how much do I owe you, doctor?” because in many other countries the healthcare provider may be more involved in the financial aspects of the practice. It is shocking for patients to receive care without having to pay cash up front or before they leave the hospital. It is also surprising for US healthcare providers, based on my experience, to receive financial questions from patients. As expected, all these questions are interpreted but, if the interpreter does not identify these differences as reasons for lack of conversation flow, the interpreter may not act appropriately, thus s/he may not intervene and empower patient and provider to talk about it for the well-being of the patient.

B. Interpreting Regulations

Interpreters’ location also affects what rules they abide by. Auditing interpreters and ensuring compliance with the US Code of Ethics/Professional Conduct and Standards of Practice as well as with privacy and security of data are simply not possible if they don’t reside within US territories.

C. Ability to Monitor, Mentor, and Maintain Oversight for Quality

Another factor that may be related to location is whether interpreters can be employees or simply contractors for an interpreting company. This affects the ability to perform quality controls, obtain and provide feedback, perform research, train, and work on enhancing processes and performance. Having interpreters on US soil who are employees allows for ways to ensure quality and invest in cultural awareness and professional development.

Our company has been able to develop quality assurance processes and identify how location may affect cultural awareness and thus accuracy in interpretations. Furthermore, having a network of interpreters from multiple countries in our language centers and a support system with quality assurance and training allow interpreters to grow and learn. Not only do they expand their vocabulary for multiple regions, but their awareness of cultural differences enhances their interpretation work and improves the patient and provider experience.

An example – shared by one of my colleagues who is an interpreter and Quality Assurance expert – explains that: “Even a native Spanish speaker may not realize the importance of the words ‘agua fresca’ (literally fresh water) if they’re not trained to look for their contextual meaning. In certain regions, agua fresca is a beverage made with fruit, flowers, or herbs mixed with sugar and water. A diabetic patient who reports drinking this vs. its literal interpretation will be provided with much different instructions that may affect treatment and outcome.”

D. Security of Data

Just as we use remote interpreting to help care for patients and save lives every day, expanding our communication possibilities brings questions about the privacy of the information being shared or how the data are being handled and stored. At a macro-level, data recorded and stored in other countries may not be subject to the same data protection and privacy rules that apply to US-based operations. Interpreters processing calls are considered to have access to non-public health information and the transmission, transportation, and storage of such non-public information is generally prohibited.

In summary, knowing the language is not enough and location of your interpreters does affect interpretation encounters. The benefits of staffing interpreters who are based in the US are numerous and impactful. Here is a partial list to keep in mind:

  • Ability to monitor, mentor, and conduct oversight for quality
  • Professional development in a diverse learning environment for interpreters
  • Multi-cultural, multi-nationality environment to learn from
  • Familiarity with the healthcare system that both the patient and provider at the other end of the encounter are experiencing
  • Security of data, and the vendor’s control thereof
  • Enterprise-level internet connection, which directly relates to quality of service

Certification vs. Qualification: Considerations for Your Language Services

May 16, 2019

Written By: By Tatiana Cestari, Ph.D., Manager of Interpreter Education and Compliance

From our more than 15 years of supporting hospital staff and experts in the healthcare interpreting industry, we know there can be a lot of confusion around the terminology used or some definitions that are unclear. So, we thought it might be valuable to provide answers to those terms that are routinely used to help you make informed decisions that lead to improved clinical and financial outcomes.

What do interpretation companies mean when they say “qualified”?

Have you ever asked that question? Generally, a person “qualified” for a job is one who meets the job description criteria set by the company. Therefore, this term can be relative and depends on the quality standards set by each vendor.

At Cloudbreak, we take quality and compliance very seriously, and thus don’t use our own definition, but meet and exceed the definition of qualified interpreter shown in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. To us, a minimally qualified interpreter is a bilingual individual who has proven:

  • language skills proficiency;
  • interpreting skills proficiency (able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially);
  • they understand the code of ethics or professional conduct and standards of practice;
  • they have any necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology, and phraseology;
  • they have completed all requirements to apply for national certification as a healthcare interpreter, which includes passing a nationally recognized qualifying medical interpreter training

What’s more, many “qualified” interpreters who may know the language are not trained in interpreting virtually or in the complex and emotionally charged context of medical terminology and practices. Our required onboarding and continuing education programs dive deep into the implications of interpreting remotely as well as understanding terminology and healthcare.

What’s the difference between qualified and certified?

Many interpretation companies stop at “qualified,” and yet others loosely use the term “certified.” But certified against what criteria?

At Cloudbreak, a certified interpreter is one who has successfully obtained national certification for spoken or sign language. National certification for healthcare interpreters is achieved by passing one or two independent, professional exams (the number depends on the non-English language that the interpreter uses) developed and provided by the corresponding organizations. The certification process is like that of other professions in the US such as nursing, engineering, dentistry, etc. as they need to take and pass a professional exam to obtain it.

As a result of our training efforts and commitment to quality, Cloudbreak’s passing rate for the CCHI national certification written exam is 90.1%, which is greater than the passing rate nation-wide (see national passing rate for this exam in CCHI’s Annual Reports).

What continuing education is necessary to maintain certification and relevance?

As healthcare is a dynamic industry, initial training is only enough to get started. While some companies may “certify” they interpreters upon hiring, they may do very little to maintain skills and certification, depending on what certification framework they employ. Conversely, ongoing education is a core process at Cloudbreak to ensure continued skill building and contextual familiarity to improve outcomes.

As proof of our commitment to the education of our interpreters and the interpreting community at large, we offer more than eight webinars per year that are pre-approved by RID/ACET, CCHI/CEAP, IMIA, and Washington State DSHS. The topics included in our webinars vary from healthcare and medical terminology to cultural awareness, interpreting skills onsite and remotely, ethics, etc. With the number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) pre-approved, we surpassed the minimum requirements for most certifying bodies to renew national certification in the US. In addition, we require our video interpreters to complete more CEUs per year than the number needed for national certification renewal, ensuring that they aren’t only the best in the industry, but that they remain so.

What types of ongoing training, testing, and other quality measures are available for interpreters in addition to the third-party certification?

The potential for ongoing professional development is limitless, yet often-times an investment that independent interpreters or interpretation companies are unwilling to make while keeping rates below market value. These can be particularly challenging for healthcare institutions opting for support from interpreters who are not specialists in the needs of healthcare. At Cloudbreak, we’re not willing to compromise on quality. At a minimum, Cloudbreak Health requires the following from all video interpreters prior to performing interpretations:

  • Pass a criminal background check and drug screening
  • Pass a bilingual fluency and/or medical interpreting assessment given by a neutral third party, in both English and non-English language(s)
  • Pass a medical interpreting training that meets the eligibility requirements to apply for national certification
  • Make a commitment to further develop his or her skills and knowledge in healthcare and in interpreting
  • Successfully complete Martti’s comprehensive on-boarding training, which focuses on:
    • HIPAA Compliance and Confidentiality
    • Professionalism
    • U.S. Healthcare System
    • Camera Presence and Basic Troubleshooting
    • Customer Service
    • Cultural Competency
    • Quality Assurance Guidelines
    • Code of Ethics/Professional Conduct and Standards of Practice

In addition, Cloudbreak’s ASL interpreters are required to pass our Medical Screening Assessment prior to hire to ensure quality medical interpretation. This screening was created in collaboration with the faculty of Columbus State Community College’s Interpreter Education Program, a nationally recognized ASL Interpreter Training Program.

Why do we insist on such rigorous qualifications when others don’t? What does service look like when provided by non-certified interpreters?

Although using a recognized program such as The Community Interpreter International or Bridging the Gap as qualifying medical interpreter trainings teach the basic skills, due to the shorter program durations, they may not cover all ongoing aspects of the interpreting profession. We use these great trainings to get new interpreters ready to perform as interpreters, but by also requiring our interpreters to have continuing education and national certification, we make them grow and learn to their own benefit, that of our partners and their patients.

In other words, national certification is the most comprehensive way to demonstrate that an interpreter has all the skills needed to be a professional interpreter. Someone who has passed the national certification exam(s) can prove they have:

  • language skills proficiency;
  • interpreting skills proficiency (able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially);
  • comprehension of the code of ethics and standards of practice;
  • any necessary specialized vocabulary, terminology and phraseology;
  • a commitment to continue to improve and be up-to-date on things related to the field by taking CEUs (this is a requirement to renew certification; similar to other healthcare providers need to complete);
  • proven interpreting experience as it is also mandatory, in some cases, to complete a minimum of interpretation hours to renew certification.

The impact of these investments in our interpreters includes everything from greater patient and provider satisfaction, to shorter encounters which speeds patient throughout and reduces the total cost of interpretation services.

Remember, always ask what “qualified” or “certified” means to those talking to you about it!

How Language Brokering Shapes Professional Interpretation

May 7, 2019

Written By: By James “Jamey” Edwards

At Cloudbreak Health, we are passionate about ensuring that we deliver the highest quality of interpretation services. Much of the “heavy lifting” in this regard is performed by our Quality Assurance (“QA”) team. They train, monitor, share best practices, and improve processes, so our team is always staying ahead of the curve, handling minor issues before they become larger problems and constantly learning from our experience.

QA is more than just monitoring calls and handling complaints when and if they arise. The team also participates in and conducts research around topics that are relevant to our staff, as well as to the partners who we serve. We don’t just read about the latest and greatest trends and standards; we also help shape them. So, a member of our team recently presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) with researchers from The Ohio State University and The University of Texas, Austin.

The research set out to find, among professional interpreters, how prevalent is previous experience as a language broker and how has that experience shaped interpreters. “Language broker” is a term that typically refers to children of immigrant families who are relied upon in a variety of situations to interpret and/or translate. It’s a role—often challenging—they didn’t choose but are called upon to do in the context of shopping, education, travel, and yes, healthcare.

Our video medical interpreters certainly encounter this regularly—family members of non-English speaking patients often accompany their kin to help broker the discussion in the doctor’s office. But even so, those discussions can be difficult and interpreting medical terminology requires precision and mitigation of any potential bias, which is why our interpreters are so often called upon to join these brokered conversations.

We know language brokering looms large among the populations we serve. So, the researchers conducted a survey and followed that up with a focus group to find out more about the interpreter’s brokering experience. There were a whole host of findings, but here are just a few to highlight:

  • The average age participants started brokering language was 14, though there was some variation
  • About half the participants reported brokering daily or weekly
  • Overall, positive feelings about the brokering experience were about twice as prevalent as negative ones

The findings are significant, but just as impactful can be the qualitative information shared in free form by some of the interpreters who took part in the research. Here are a few of the quotes that struck us:

“I grew up in an area … South Texas to me is a different world. I can say that because I lived there from the age of seven all the way to the age of 25. The Spanish that I spoke just a few years ago is not the Spanish that I speak nowadays because the area is very close-minded when it comes to traditions, culture, when it comes to some of the Mexican and even Mexican-American things there. … I wish I would have been exposed to more correct Spanish as a kid.”

“…as Dominicans we have a lot of Spanglish so I think there’s a struggle there of having to really push myself to learn proper Spanish.”

“…I have two different types of feelings. There was more fear then than now. I feel less scared than I did when I didn’t have training, so I think that fear is no longer [there]. And I think with the background knowledge of professional interpreting I push back when people say we don’t have [an] interpreter. I am more of an advocate now.”

“…In the preteen years I started to notice that my parents deserved more. I would see the unfairness, I would see the treatment. It would make me upset but when I think of the fact that I was only a kid, to me it was not of the magnitude that it is today as an advocate. Some providers seem to have cultural diversity training; you can see the sincerity but others you just think ‘what planet are they from?’”

Because we know that many of our current and future interpreters have some background with language brokering, these findings and insights have some implications for our training and professional development. Among the most tangible takeaways from this research:

  • Brokering can come with feelings of shame and experiences of injustice.
  • In training, there is often a focus on more standard language situations, which is understandable; but this also has the potential to introduce bias in the interpreter testing process.
  • Language brokers have keen intuitions. Current industry training sometimes focuses on suppression of these intuitions.
  • Interpreters viewed previous brokering experiences as both an advantage and a disadvantage.

So, what can we do with these insights? We can incorporate some of this thinking into ongoing instruction programs. At Cloudbreak, we are constantly revising training protocols, so we can focus more attention on developing the instincts of language brokers more appropriately. Professional development is about making our interpretation staff the best they can be, and sometimes that means providing opportunities for processing emotions and learning from their experiences. It’s one more way we are shaping the trends in language services and ensuring the highest levels of quality for the patients and families we serve.

4 Thoughts on Telemedicine and Robot Doctors

March 21, 2019

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

Occasionally we’re fortunate enough to share the perspectives of others on this blog, along with our own. This post is co-written by Dr. Ben Panwala, a hospitalist and founder/CEO of Telshur.

Earlier this month, there was a stir about a ‘robot doctor’ giving the family of a terminally ill man some difficult news about his condition. Evidently, a remote physician appeared on a screen and was positioned at the patient’s bedside to discuss his case. The family took to social media to share the experience and state that this is no way to tell a patient he’s about to die.

The team at Cloudbreak use the phrase “humanize healthcare” a lot, and along with Telshur, we both believe that technology has tremendous potential to help us meet that goal. So, what went wrong in this situation? Likely several things.

Quite a few physicians have spoken out to defend the doctor in this story (and technologists have defended the tech as well). But maybe this misses the point. We sympathize with the family but also acknowledge the challenges of the remote doctor in delivering high quality care over distance and pushed by time constraints. Scenarios like this can happen anywhere and do happen numerous times a day across the country, and around the world—whether it’s in-person or remotely.

When these events occur, we should always look at opportunities they present to look for insights and areas of improvement. We suggest four takeaways to ponder—

  1. Core to a clinician’s role is talking to the family and delivering news. This is true regardless of whether the doctor is in the room or hundreds of miles and two iPad screens away. With demanding clinical assignments, it can be tempting to take shortcuts and not engage patients on a deeper level. In this way, a doctor may not fail medically, but may still fail the patient. But care providers need to connect with their patients and their families over media just as we would in person.
  2. There is a “digital etiquette” that’s different from face to face interactions. This one should be obvious. Think of two friends hanging out together. One utters a sarcastic comment but does so with a smile and a wink. While the words on their own may offend, there’s an understanding that this is sarcasm and no real offense is intended. Now think about that same remark uttered in an e-mail to a colleague (and no emojis allowed!). The perception would be very different. Fortunately, it’s certainly possible for doctors to ‘read the room’ virtually, but it takes a different set of skills and steps.
  3. Training is needed to ensure clinicians make the best use of the technology provided. Imagine you started a new job and your first assignment was to lead a webinar with multiple participants, on a platform that you’d never used before. Without some foundational training, how likely are you to conduct that webinar without a hiccup? Remote physicians, mental health professionals, language interpreters, and others need to be trained on things like: positioning the equipment for the best view and sound; coaching the person(s) on the other end who may be incredulous; and acting with intention, knowing that some of the non-verbal cues may not make it across the ether. Such training should be built into any robust telemedicine program. When you do this, it results in more precise communications, often shorter interactions, and improved patient and provider satisfaction.
  4. Telemedicine, or “distributed healthcare” if you prefer, is the future. Actually, it’s the present, but the future promise is even greater. The facts are plain. We’re facing very real doctor shortages, with the gaps in some practice areas much wider than others. And for patients remote from large metro hospitals or who arrive in the ER or ICU before a specialist can be on-site, the promise of telemedicine is that we can deploy more expertise to the patients who need it, and in a timelier manner. We hope both doctors and patients shift from tolerating this reality to embracing it.

When we say “humanize healthcare” it means that technology is at its best when it’s enabling or improving personal medical interactions. We believe the key to this is not focusing on the technology alone, but also the protocols, procedures, and workflows that are being employed by caregivers when using the technology, and then ensuring the technology is supportive of those things that make the difference. Or, put another way, the culture is more important than the communication modality.

We believe, if given the opportunity, being in person to inform patients and families of serious health issues is optimal. But sometimes that’s simply not possible, and for urgent life and death situations, worried families are looking for timely answers and guidance to make decisions.

We know humanized telemedicine can work because we’ve seen it. We’ve experienced provider teams specifically requesting telemedicine interactions on behalf of family members who can’t make it to the bedside in time. They want what’s best for the patient and family, and so do we. And that’s what we hope to achieve with a distributed healthcare future.

Relying on Dr. Google for Medical Interpretation

March 11, 2019

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

JAMA recently published an article on using mainstream translation software in a health care setting, which was also picked up by Gizmodo. Researchers used Google Translate to translate emergency department discharge instructions prepared in English into Spanish and Chinese.

The results were then retranslated into English by bilingual translators, and lo and behold Google Translate handled the lion’s share correctly—92% of Spanish instructions were rated accurate. Not surprisingingly, Chinese was more difficult and about 81% of instructions were spot on. In each language, a small percentage of the faulty translations were deemed clinically significant with the potential to cause harm.

The punchline: “While GT can supplement (not replace) written English instructions, machine translated instructions should include a warning about potentially inaccurate translations.” The study also noted that the authors “cautiously support its use” in a clinical encounter.

Medical interpretation is the trickiest and most nuanced form of interpretation—we see it every day. To make it more complex, interpretation (the spoken word) and translation (the written word) are different disciplines and the danger is that the public most often doesn’t recognize there is a difference, nor do most clinical personnel who use those words interchangeably. Interpreters are often painting a picture of understanding vs. doing word for word translation, because in many languages a phrase will not directly translate into the same meaning in the other language. In addition, the context or the situation in which the words are spoken matter and needs to be taken into account.

For example, the English-language phrase “my wife is going into labor” becomes “mi esposa va a laborer” in GT (pictured), which, translated back into English is more like “My wife is going into work.” The contextual meaning is lost. Or when a Spanish speaker complains of “mal de orina,” the literal interpretation of the words they are saying is “bad urine,” but in context a skilled interpreter will recognize they may be trying to say they have a UTI. Even short phrases present a huge potential for error.

“Why should I care?” is most often the next question to be asked when considering and how Google Translate or other computerized translation tools might affect outcomes. We all should care for many reasons. First off, we need to assume that a clinician reading JAMA may start using such a tool for all their interpretation and translation needs even though it hasn’t been recommended for such usage. This would lead to significantly increased risk for the patient, as well as potential physician liability. We also need to contend with the fact that no one is QA-ing or supervising tools like Google Translate in the field to measure its effectiveness as has been done in this study and therefore “miles may vary” in terms of its true accuracy and effectiveness.

The study simply tested Google Translate’s ability to handle a sentence or two of fairly clear-cut instructions. An error rate that high on straightforward text is something to be concerned about. It’s a far cry from interpreting through a full medical exam or procedure. Cloudbreak’s average provider/patient video interactions last 10 minutes, and they benefit from non-verbal cues oftentimes communicated. Furthermore, nearly 20% of our encounters are in American Sign Language for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, and browser-based transliteration simply can’t address that.

We get it – care teams may like the idea of using a computerized tool such as Google Translate because it’s fast is available at their fingertips, but that’s the experience that Martti users have always had.

But even more important is the quality of the interpretation. Martti is health care-specialized and it’s underpinned by interpreters who are not only specially trained and certified by CCHI, but also participating in the US health care environment rather than being based in another country. In many other nations, the idea of things like co-pays or certain advanced technology may not exist, so U.S.-based interpreters are not only adept at handling the language piece, but also speak the language of health care as its delivered here.

Now, if you’ve read this far, look back on the blog post and consider how many idiomatic English-language phrases were used. Phrases like:

lo and behold
lion’s share
spot on
far cry

Certified interpreters unfamiliar with these phrases would know to look them up and apply context, or perhaps ask the speaker for clarification. That’s what effective (and ultimately accurate) medical interpretation looks like.

We believe in the power of technology and its power to solve thorny problems such as building a virtual medical interpretation tool. We love Google and use it every day. That being said, the technology isn’t quite there yet to “cautiously support its use” for the root of good healthcare: communication. As a patient, would you want to be one of the statistics of the studies acceptable error-level window? As a doctor, would you want to put your medical license at risk or see one of your patients harmed?

Currently Martti offers our health care partners the ability to instantly access at the push of button Certified Medical Interpreters in U.S.-based language centers who speak over 250 languages, delivered over a reliable and scalable telemedicine infrastructure. We believe this is currently the gold standard offered in the market and remain committed to building patient and provider trust through our more than 85,000 encounters per month at over 1,000 health care venues.

Telemedicine’s Ability to Positively Impact Chronic Illness Management

March 2, 2017

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

What does research show is the strongest cause for non-compliance with medical advice, leading to poor quality care, among multi-cultural populations? Is it cultural differences? Is it finances? Is it lack of will? No. These may be factors, but they are not the primary cause. The leading cause is actually something even more basic and human. And with today’s medical technological advancements, very easy to remedy.

The link is communication — or rather a lack of ability to effectively communicate.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, 60 million Americans speak a language other than English in their homes, including ASL (American Sign Language). Over 200 languages are commonly spoken in the US, with Spanish, Vietnamese, French and German and several Chinese languages leading the way. In most cases this is their first and best understood language. This language barrier contributes to poor outcomes among these individuals who often speak English well enough to function in a primarily English-speaking society, but may lack the ability to understand “doctor’s orders”. This is but one of the many healthcare disparities that exist driven by social (Social Determinants of Health or SDoH), economic and geographic differences within our nation. Interestingly enough, it is exactly these type of disparities that are a primary driver of chronic illness.

Free and open communication is, not only the #1 diagnostic tool a provider has in caring for a patient, but it is also the cornerstone of a satisfying patient and provider encounter. In a world of increasing technology and faceless diagnostic testing, it is our words that make us human. They tell the story of our illness (where does it hurt?), help avoid complications (are you allergic to any drugs?) and drive our recovery (take this medicine 3 times per day for 2 weeks).

When patients have chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, COPD, Ulcers and even Cancer, you know, that your ability as a medical professional or administrator to help them is more dependent on what happens outside the clinic or hospital than what happens within.

They need to understand a slew of different factors, including, but not limited to:

  • The gravity of the condition.
  • Required dietary changes as needed.
  • The importance of physical activity.
  • How to properly take their medicine.
  • When to return for a checkup.

A Better Way

You have undoubtedly heard of “telemedicine” or “telehealth”. You may be excited with the improvements it can bring to healthcare. Or you may have reservations about some of the technologies that are being considered.

Telemedicine allows us to shift the place space relationship that we have grown accustomed to in traditional healthcare.

I view it as a game changer, especially when it comes to population health strategies around chronic conditions. Telemedicine allows us to shift the place space relationship that we have grown accustomed to in traditional healthcare. Patients can now perform their routine checkups from the comfort of their home or office. This prevents the waste of time and costs associated with travel to and from the doctor’s office or missed productivity from your workday.

In a recent study by the Veterans Administration, Telemedicine resulted in an average travel savings of 145 miles and 142 min per visit. This led to an average travel payment savings of $18,555 per year. Telemedicine volume grew significantly over the study period such that by the final year the travel pay savings had increased to $63,804, or about 3.5% of the total travel pay disbursement for that year. Kaiser Permanente recently reported that they are performing a majority of their patient visits virtually.

We define population health at Cloudbreak Health as empowering patients to receive care where, when and how they want it. This becomes even more important for chronic conditions (the treatment of which is the primary driver behind the more well accepted definition of population health) which tend to impact a patients life on a daily basis. The latest remote patient monitoring tools allow you track a wide spectrum of data from your steps, to your heartbeat, to your blood sugar level and beyond. Using your phone, tablet or PC, you can have a video visit with your physician where they can check a wound for infection and monitor your breathing. This ability to increase access at a reduced cost, all while remaining HIPAA compliant, represents a tremendous opportunity for patient and provider alike.

Feel free to share this or comment below. Join the dialogue with us on Twitter at #HumanizeHealthcare as we try to create a more simple, human and caring healthcare system in our country.


The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine

August 23, 2016

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine

In a world that is constantly expanding with the help of technology, it comes of no surprise that the medical field is one of the primary subjects of the technological revolution. Moreover, outpatient care, management, and hospital communication, among many other services, have been organized into their own distinct verticals.

While cutting edge innovations such as our very own Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) system, Martti (which stands for My Accessible Real Time Trusted Interpreter), and Carenection, our telehealth delivery platform, certainly make life considerably easier for the healthcare industry, the internalized jargon often associated with them is not always quite so simple. In the healthcare community, telehealth and telemedicine are often seen as interchangeable, though this is not quite the case. The distinction lies in the matter of scope in which telehealth encompasses a broader range of services and telemedicine more directly embodies direct clinical care. In order to learn more about both of these terms and what they mean for you, we’ve taken the time to explore them further.

Telehealth and Telemedicine Defined

Telehealth and telemedicine are services which are described by members of the healthcare community as technologies that link patients to their providers at every phase of their healing process. It is a simple definition, but when a domain is as large as this, distinctions will occur with terminology. The difference is simply stated as the difference in clinical and non-clinical affairs. But what defines these domains which are broad in themselves? Telehealth is used for electronic communication, management, information, and statistic reading whereas telemedicine is used for treating and diagnosing patients remotely.  In some cases, it gets even more confusing with Direct Patient Care sometimes being considered telehealth while e-consult driven physician to physician consultation being referred to as telemedicine.

Sheesh. Makes the head spin 😉

With this distinction in mind, it should be noted that this is not necessarily a universally accepted differentiation. As time goes on, the gap in the distinction lessens as the words merge into a single concept simply describing the evolutionary and crucial role of technology such as LAN’s video remote interpreting service, Martti, in the field of healthcare.  We believe that the provision on an interpreter is of great value to a clinical consult.  Any provider will tell you that the primary driver behind any appropriate diagnosis depends on communication between patient and provider.  A proper patient and family history, discussion of current symptoms, and understanding of the medications the patient may be on help a provider narrow their focus and pinpoint the key determinants of a diagnosis.  In fact, just like cardiology, dermatology or neurology, we will sometimes push the limits of good grammar and refer to what we do as “language-ology” as communication is fundamental to every patient – provider encounter.

When it comes to the telemedicine vs. telehealth debate, at the present time the distinction is still recognized by many healthcare professionals.  We believe knowledge is power though and everyone should be able to know the definition of such jargon since healthcare is a part of everyone’s life in some way, shape or form. Thanks to telemedicine, healthcare disparities can be addressed using technology to connect patients to providers for clinical encounters. Thanks to telehealth, people are able to research their diagnosis or receive text alerts or coaching that can guide their care. Telehealth opens up communication and learning where telemedicine assists in its application clinically.

In both cases, the communication between doctor and patient is made much easier thanks to technological innovations. The difference between telehealth and telemedicine is, afterall, a small distinction. What is important for us all to realize is that the adoption of these technologies in medicine will continue to allow us to humanize healthcare and benefit medical personnel and patients alike for years to come.

To simplify things, shouldn’t we just be calling it “healthcare” anyway?

Help us keep the dialogue going.

Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #HumanizeHealthcare.

America’s Healthcare System: Not the Greatest in the World…But It Could Be.

June 16, 2016

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

The link below is to a brilliant clip from the HBO series Newsroom.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it.  If you have seen it, watch it again:

The United States of America is often referred to as the greatest country in the world. And while this may hold true in some facets of our society, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that healthcare isn’t one of them. We’re ranked #34 in the world for life expectancy, #40 in the world for infant mortality, and our #1 cause of bankruptcy is medical expenses. While those statistics aren’t quite as bad as those quoted by Jeff Daniels in his Newsroom rant above, they’re not the vital signs of a healthy medical system: they’re the dashboard of a system in crisis. But, the patient isn’t dead yet, and there is still hope to revive the system that millions of Americans rely on everyday. Here are our top 5 ways we can fix healthcare in America:

  1. Re-engage the patient as the owner of their care. People who are treated like children can be expected to act like children, and this is particularly true of the way in which patients are managed in US hospitals. Guided from one department to the next with little information on their condition and minimal access to their records, patients are forced to place all responsibility for their care in the hands of doctors. Open access to information, namely their patient health record, combined with new healthcare technologies such as wearable devices, can put this responsibility back on the patient and make them an owner of their healthcare team. With the support of their coaches (also known as their primary care provider, nutritionists, doctors, nurses and specialists) and team mates (such as friends, family members and work colleagues) the goal of better health can be achieved.
  2. Have the difficult conversation around end of life healthcare. As our population grows older we face a moral dilemma – how long should we prolong life for the sake of living? Beside the cost to insurers such as Medicare (which can be as high as $50 billion per year) there is also the question about how we want to spend our final days – will it be in ICU with beeping machines and tubes, or in relative comfort at home surrounded by loved ones. Fact: 30% of all Medicare expenditures are attributed to the 5% of beneficiaries that die each year, with 1/3 of that cost occurring in the last month of life. How do we measure quality of life when the patient often can’t communicate? Sometimes the family’s desires differ from what the patient would have wanted for a broad variety of reasons.  Advanced directives can certainly help, but more needs to be done. It’s time to have a conversation about when it’s o.k. to let nature take its course and allow death with dignity.
  3. Change patient behavior through economic incentives. There’s no question that drinking or smoking to excess has negative health impacts. The question now is how do we incentivize a change in behavior to reduce the burden of preventable conditions caused by these activities and their effect on our healthcare system? One method is to tie insurance premiums to these behaviors in the same way as a pre-existing condition would influence our payments. This is also a critical part of re-engaging people in their own care: creating a tangible link between lifestyle and health. Step away from the bad behaviors and stop treating health care like a endless buffet.
  4. Eliminate healthcare as the #1 cause of bankruptcy in America. A 2009 study found that medical debt was the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US. Of those filing for bankruptcy, approximately 60% held insurance but had incurred substantial costs due to gaps in coverage. People have lauded the ACA as being responsible for helping insure more people, but the fact is large portions of those who have signed up are now underinsured and are surprised by their high deductibles and what they still owe after a doctor’s office visit or a trip to the ER. Many potential patients go unseen by medical professionals as they avoid visiting hospitals in fear of accruing more debt. This is a phenomena unique amongst developed countries, where the majority of nations offer a universal public healthcare system that creates a safety net. It’s time to reexamine how insurers structure their policies and create an environment that encourages preventive healthcare and wellness to the benefit of both patients and providers.
  5. Increase transparency and reduce complexity in healthcare products and pricing. A lack of transparent pricing, meaningful education and the ever growing complexity of our health insurance products have conspired to make it impossible for the average American to be a good consumer of healthcare. How much should an MRI cost? What is left on my deductible? Which doctor has the best track record on the procedure I need? What the heck is a DofR (Division of Financial Responsibility)? All good questions with no easy answers in today’s environment. For patients to be able to take control, they will need simple, easy to understand tools, reports and mechanisms to make informed decisions about their care, where it is given and the quality performance of who is giving it.

Those are our top 5 ways to fix healthcare in America. By no means an exhaustive list, but a good start in our eyes. Help us keep the dialogue going. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation by using the hashtag #HumanizeHealthcare on Twitter.

Quality Interpretation Matters, Here’s Why

April 26, 2016

Written By: James "Jamey" Edwards

Most healthcare professionals know that the best way to improve patient outcomes is through good, open & trusted communication. Achieving those outcomes goes beyond understanding simply what ails a person, and extends to the bond formed between patient and care provider. Little Known Fact: In a recent study with IBM Watson, people were more open in describing their situation to an AI (Artificial Intelligence)  than they were to the person in the room. There is an intrinsic fear of judgement that exists in human contact. Have you ever left information out that could have been relevant to your doctor, but you may have been too embarrassed to bring it up?

It can also be a method of risk management, with good communication adding to the bottom line of a hospital through reputational benefits and lower litigation rates.

Despite all these advantages, effective communication in a hospital setting is anything but simple. Stressed patients mix with time-stressed healthcare professionals to create a perfect storm where important information is misunderstood or poorly communicated. Add to this situation a growing number of patients with limited English proficiency and it’s no surprise that the emphasis can shift from providing high quality healthcare to simply reaching the most accurate diagnosis possible.

Effective interpretation plays an important role in moving the focus back to patient satisfaction and positive patient outcomes. By empowering both doctors and patients to openly communicate, the information needed for a proper diagnosis, the anxiety reduced in the encounter and the trust and understanding developed upon discharge all contribute to humanizing healthcare by bringing the needs of the individual to the fore. Patients who struggle to communicate often feel like a burden on doctors, while the doctors themselves are anxious that they may not be able to give an accurate diagnosis. In the absence of easy verbal communication, patients rely on non-verbal cues from doctors. As the video below comically demonstrates, this isn’t generally the preferred method of communicating potentially life saving information:

That look on the provider’s face, which may reflect their anxiety about providing effective care to their patient, can often be misinterpreted as annoyance by already stressed patients. Despite best intentions, I’ve seen patients faced with this situation decide that the provider’s annoyance is caused by the patient wasting their time, and downplay the severity of their problem or leave the hospital – exactly the opposite of building an environment of open and trusted communication.

Many hospitals have now realized that they require access to multiple solutions so they may provide timely access to interpreters in the highest quality way possible.

Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services such as Martti™ have helped over 500 hospitals nationwide streamline access to interpreters over 60,000 times per month and greatly simplify communication between doctor and patient. At the touch of a finger patients can access culturally competent certified medical interpreters, dedicated to ensuring that patient and provider understand each other during the times it most matters.

More than simply identifying and diagnosing the patient’s condition, a fast and effective interpretation system reintroduces understanding to the patient/doctor interaction – the key to compassionate care. While hospital administrators may look at these situations from a risk standpoint – the potential for malpractice is very real – those on the frontlines see the benefits in smoother patient flows, clearer diagnoses, and ultimately more satisfied patients and providers.

Request a demo to see how VRI can break down communication barriers