FAQ: Language Access Services For Hospitals and Health Systems

July 18, 2018
Frequently asked questions from hospitals on language access

This post was updated on July 22, 2019 for freshness, accuracy, and clarity.

Frequently asked questions from hospitals on language access

We at iTi have been serving hospital and health systems across the Northeast and the nation for over 30 years. From family practices to eye doctors to mental health hospitals to multi-state healthcare systems, we’ve seen, done, and heard it all!


We decided to make a list of the most frequently asked questions we hear from receptionists, nurses, doctors, patient relations departments, and hospital executives.

All in one easy to reference page to make your life easier. Be sure to bookmark this page in case you need to return to it!

One thing to note is that our answers here are quite specific to our company. Every language service company operates differently. We hope the information we provide can help you in your evaluations to determine how well-equipped a particular LSP is to serve your organization.

Looking for more information on creating a language access program? Check out: Sustainable and Scalable Language Access Programs For Hospitals


Q: Are we, as healthcare providers, required to provide language services?

A: If you receive federal funds, yes!

The legal foundation for language access lies in Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which states:

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

You may be wondering: But, it doesn’t mention anything about language?!

That little piece about national origin is the key we’re referring to. National origin includes the country they or their family is originally from and includes the language spoken there!

Additionally –

In August 2000, President Clinton drew national attention to the issue of limited English proficiency when he issued Executive Order (EO) 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency. EO 13166 reiterates Title VI requirements for federal fund recipients to ensure programs provide equal access to LEP individuals.

AND, we’re not done yet….

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 further reiterated the importance and requirements of the Civil Rights Act with an emphasis on eliminating health disparities. The ACA aims to increase health equity regardless of race, color, or national origin  by requiring the coverage of preventative care which is critical to promoting positive health outcomes. Effective communication is crucial to improving preventative care and patient satisfaction.

Not to mention…

It’s simply just the right thing to do!

You are in medicine to help people, right? To care for people?

How can you morally choose to care for just one segment of the population that looks like you when our country is quite literally a melting pot built upon hundreds of different origins and backgrounds?

What if you were visiting a foreign country – or had a child studying abroad – and had an emergency that required medical attention? Would you want you or your child’s care compromised because the providers didn’t know how to or care to contact an interpreter?

Would you be comfortable if they grabbed a janitor or random person in the waiting room to interpret?

Q: How do I set up a language services contract?

A: Identify language services companies that specialize in serving the healthcare industry.

Evaluate them all and decide which is best suited to serve your organization.

We consult heavily with our prospective healthcare clients to ensure that we are a good fit. We work out many technical and logistical details before a contract is ever signed.

One big thing we suggest is using just one language service provider (LSP) to serve your organization. Sure, you can use one vendor for translation, one for in person interpreting, one for ASL interpreters, etc.


If you want to best control your costs while receiving the highest quality service and care, go with a language service provider that provides the full solution.

Q: How much do language services cost?

A: Get ready for it, everyone’s favorite answer…

It depends! On many things.

The larger your office or hospital, the more likely you will need a full range of services and solutions. If you’re a small office, maybe you only need an over the phone interpreting account, access to in person interpreters, and the occasional document translated.

Your best bet? Give us a call for a free consultation with our specialized account managers. We will assess your needs and be able to give you a more accurate estimate range.

Q: Do language service companies provide any types of reports?

A: iTi provides a demographic report with each billing statement. This report shows a breakdown of use per language. We can also provide reports on language, usage data, call data, usage statistics, and time-of-day language distribution and may more useful tools to aid in your review of telephonic services.

Q: Will you support our hospital in implementing the language access plan? What does implementation look like?

A: Absolutely! Part of what sets us apart is that we work extremely closely with hospitals and health systems throughout every stage of implementation. We don’t want to just sell our services, we want to integrate them into your organization so they are easily accessible. Furthermore, we provide staff education and training on not only how to best use the services but when to use each service, how to work with interpreters, and how the services support them in doing their job.

Implementation looks different for every organization. For some it may take weeks, others months. We assign a dedicated team of employees to manage implementation in accordance with a Lean Six-Sigma foundation.

Q: What is required from our IT group for implementation?

A: IT collaboration is necessary to set up over the phone and video remote interpreter services. The degree of collaboration will depend on how your organization is set up and how you would like to deploy the services.

Q: How do you ensure compliance with patient health information (PHI) and HIPAA?

A: We treat all clients information with extreme sensitivity. We have the following measures in place to ensure full confidentiality:

  • On-site server room up to the Department of Defense specifications
  • Encrypted communication including phone, email, SMS, etc.
  • FTP server to securely upload documents
  • Confidentiality agreements with all linguists

Q: Are interpreters and translators subject to background checks?

A: At iTi, yes, all of our linguists undergo background checks prior to being hired. We do not hire interpreters who don’t adequately pass a background check.

Interpreter Services

Q: How much lead time do you need for interpreter services?

A: While we prefer as much lead time for interpreters as possible, we understand that last minute needs arise. We are able to provide an in person interpreter with as little as 1-hour notice.

In the case of an emergency or if an in person interpreter isn’t available, we suggest using an over the phone interpreter or video remote interpreter.

Q: Can we just use a bilingual staff member for interpretation?

A: If they have had their language proficiency tested and are trained as an interpreter, yes.

However, many times this is not the case. If they have no training as an interpreter in the language you are asking them to interpret, it is dangerous to use them as it can open you up to malpractice lawsuits and civil rights lawsuits.

We understand that sometimes you need someone quickly but if you aren’t using a trained professional, you are putting patient safety at risk.

Q: How do I access an over the phone interpreter?

A: If your hospital uses dual-handset phones for over the phone interpreters, always know where the phones are stored. It’s important to know how to access language services so when the need arises, you can take action immediately.

iTi dual-handset phones are pre-programmed for your convenience so that all you do is press one button and then request the language you need. We can also provide splitters and additional handsets to turn any telephone into a dual-handset device.

Q: What’s the availability of ASL interpreters on VRI?

A: 24/7

Q: Do we have to purchase any equipment for interpreter services?

A: Not necessarily – you most likely have equipment that you can re-purpose for video remote interpreting or maybe you have some dual-handset phones.

Over the phone interpreting and video remote interpreting are integrated into one platform so you no longer need to worry about hunting down multiple devices. Our team will work with you to assess what you have that can be used and develop the best suited solution.

Q: Do you have a dress code policy for your interpreters?

A: Yes – all iTi interpreters are professionals and dress accordingly. Additionally, interpreters wear name badges for further security purposes in identifying themselves.

Q: What type of training do you provide for our employees? In person or online?

A: Training will be conducted both in person and online. Training’s are conducted on a regular basis. iTi’s Program Manager will train staff members in any mode (in person or online) as requested.

Our past experience with implementation has been to provide in person training for all managers/staff members. iTi will then assist trained staff members train their employees online using the services. This process will be coordinated and scheduled in writing prior to implementation.

Document Translation

Q: I have a document that I need translated, how do I get it over to you?

A: We have a secure FTP portal that you can upload documents to, you can send them via encrypted email, or we can set up an integration with your ERP system of choice.

Q: What’s the typical turnaround time for a translation project?

A: Turnaround time depends on the length and formatting complexity. Most 1-2 page documents will be turned around in 24 hours.

Q: Can we use an untrained bilingual staff member to translate small documents such as prescription or follow up care instructions?

A: Never! Medical translation is a very technical and specific skill set.

A nurse may be medically trained in English and say she speaks Spanish, but is she proficient at written Spanish? Does she know medical terminology in Spanish?

Don’t risk a patients health and safety to save a few bucks and time – have medical documents translated by professionals.

Request A Quote


Do you have any other burning questions that we didn’t address? Leave them in the comments and we’ll get back to you ASAP!


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