Medical information can be challenging for the layperson to understand at times. The challenge is even greater for those who do not speak English or have limited proficiency in English. Despite federal regulations requiring language access services and evidence demonstrating the impact of language barriers on the quality of patients' health care, not all hospitals provide interpreters or translations.
- In 2013, about 21 percent of the U.S. population, nearly 62 million residents, spoke a language besides English at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
- About nine percent, more than 25 million Americans, spoke English "less than very well" and would be considered to have limited English proficiency ("LEP").
- Nearly one-third of U.S. hospitals fail to offer interpreters.
- About one-fourth of U.S. hospitals in areas with a high or moderate need for language services do not offer interpreters.
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that any program or activity (including hospitals) that receives federal funds, which includes Medicare and meaningful use, must take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their activities by LEP persons. Hospitals can use telephone translators, bilingual staff, professional on-site translators or video translators.
- Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires notices of non-discrimination be provided in 16 different languages and mandates the use of only qualified interpreters in health care scenarios.
- Individual states have their own requirements.