2024 UMass event title and logoLast month, we attended the 2024 Paving the Way to Health Care Access event held at UMass Chan Medical School in Boston. It was a great event, full of insights into our industry and language access in healthcare! Here’s what you need to know:

Language access

The presentation titled “From Evidence to Action – How Do Your Providers Rate (on Language Access)?,” led by David Hunt of BCT Partners, was especially in depth.

One key point made—and an important takeaway—was that current clinical training falls short in important ways and this has a disproportionate effect on travelers and migrants. Clinicians are trained to focus on the most common conditions, but the context of “common” changes with travel and migration status. Many clinicians, if not most, are not fully considering this information.

Hunt shared the idea that providers should rethink the idea of cultural competence and focus more on clinical competence in a globally mobile world. My thought is that no person, and no medical provider—regardless of how experienced or capable—can speak with all patients and understand the many different cultures and the unique attributes of each. Qualified interpreters are an important part of the care team, improving clinician understanding of the patient and patient understanding of the care plan—qualified interpreters truly are critical to quality clinical outcomes.

Equal access

In the “Unpacking Equity Through a Language Justice Lens” workshop by Toc Soneoulay-Gillespie and Anna Lynch, one comparison stood out: We would never deny a functional wheelchair to a patient who needed it. Yet LEP patients are routinely denied qualified interpreters.

The presentation included this quote, shown above, by Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA, former U.S. surgeon general (2009–2013):

“As clinicians, what we say does not matter unless our patients are able to understand the information we give them well enough to use it to make good healthcare decisions. Otherwise, we didn’t reach them, and that is the same as if we didn’t treat them.”

It’s not just about spoken languages

Kevin “Keva” Richmond is a DeafBlind individual who holds a master’s degree in Deaf education and is the founder and owner of Evolve Access, LLC. His session, “DeafBlind Interpreter Job, Set 3..2..1..Go! Wait a Minute. You Are Not Ready? Why Not?,” gave me a greatly improved understanding of the languages and language access for the Deaf and DeafBlind—and the diversity of this community, or communities, depending on perspective. He shared his own story, answering the question about how an individual, who is both Deaf and Blind, could be a presenter, successful business owner, father, and thought leader.

A key point I realized is that we collectively face similar challenges and have similar frustrations, yet the Deaf community has unique strength. While there are many more spoken-language LEPs in the U.S., some of the most important advances for improving language access have been because of efforts by and for the Deaf community. We need to recognize our common cause and improve our collaboration efforts.

Looking ahead

The medical profession has well-developed standards, but we all recognize it’s not perfect, after nearly 200 years of development in the U.S.

It has been 60 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed and just 15 since interpreters could achieve a credible, national certification. We are at the early stage of this effort to professionalize interpreting and improve language access in healthcare. I don’t see this as something that will be achieved in the next few years, but it’s certainly a goal worth working toward.

Richard Antoine, MIB/MBA
Executive Director, InterpreterEd.com