For Interpreting in Healthcare, the Future Is Here: And It’s Insourcing [Part 3]

A sign language staff medical interpreter in a micro call center communicating with a woman.

This is the third post in our series discussing the future of language access and COVID-19. Read part 1 and part 2 now.

We’re all wading through a period of change and still learning to navigate during the pandemic. While change can cause uncertainty, it can also be a time ripe for rethinking how we can innovate language services in healthcare. 

Healthcare has certainly had to pivot to address the millions of layoffs, cutbacks, and furloughs suffered at the hand of the coronavirus.  

According to a report from the American Hospital Association (AHA), U.S. hospitals and health systems lost an estimated $202.6 billion in revenue in just four short months. The pandemic forced millions of people to postpone, cancel, or forgo surgeries, appointments, and emergency medical care. This — coupled with the increased costs of PPE, medical supplies and equipment, and labor — put an overwhelming amount of financial pressure on systems likely already burdened before the pandemic.

Because of these stressors, some hospitals had to make some tough decisions regarding staffing for language services. It’s not that they don’t want to provide their non-English-speaking patients with on-site language services — having a professional medical interpreter available for those who need it is still the law, and people still need medical care that can’t be given over video or phone (i.e., childbirth, surgery, etc.). 

But the pandemic threw a wrench in the otherwise well-oiled machine of on-site medical interpreting. With on-site care volume down, how do you keep your staff interpreters busy? How do you keep them safe and financially stable? Instead of holding onto what once was, it’s time to think differently. It’s time to embrace new ideas to become more efficient, nimble, and resilient to meet the needs of today’s changing world. And the way to do that is through insourcing. 

Why insourcing interpreting services is a beneficial investment

The in-house call center, sometimes called “insourcing,” allows hospitals to turn their on-site medical interpreters into remote powerhouses. 

Using telehealth technology, staff interpreters can virtually join appointments with a provider and limited English proficient patient, without setting foot in the patient’s room. Interpreters can answer calls via video or phone, from a safe, centralized location in the hospital or from their own home. 

Insourcing blends the best components of remote and on-site interpreting. Interpreters don’t have to wait for providers who may be running late, and providers (and in a lot of cases, patients, too) get to work with an interpreter with whom they already have a rapport. 

And language access managers don’t have to stay up at night worrying about the job security of their staff. Like in the case of Parkland Memorial Hospital, you might find yourself keeping your staff safe, keeping them employed, and saving your system a lot of money in the process.

Parkland’s virtual care platform

As highlighted in Slator, Parkland Memorial Hospital’s language services director Meredith Stegall saw the benefits of insourcing in 2017. Around 70% of their interpreting requests were being filled by third-party vendors, which cost the institution $9 million. By setting up an internal video call center, and routing calls there first, Parkland saved $1.5 million annually. 

While it’s impossible to staff interpreters for all languages, Parkland’s goal is to service 90% of their Spanish-speaking demographic via their in-house virtual care program. The call center also generated 80 new interpreting positions, drawing from the large bilingual community in Dallas, Texas.

In a webinar hosted by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), Ms. Stegall described the flexibility of Parkland’s system in relation to COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, Parkland lost over 50% of their case volume. Their insourcing interpreting model allowed them to quickly shift the majority of their interpreting volume to their staff interpreters, which reduced their reliance on, and the additional cost of, third-party vendors. Clinicians and interpreters were already used to video as well, so the transition to using telehealth wasn’t a shock.

Making your team more resilient

In an article in Harvard Business Review, Martin Reeves and Kevin Whitaker, two leaders in management and strategic analysis, define “resilience” as “a company’s capacity to absorb stress, recover critical functionality, and thrive in altered circumstances.” 

Creating a more resilient language access program through insourcing means creating an environment ready for the unpredictable. Lockdowns that sent millions of employees home left on-site interpreters without a clear role. Forward-thinking language access managers who had an internal call center in place shifted gears quickly. Their teams were well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of providers and patients because they could adapt to the moment without losing critical functionality of employee interpreters.

Choosing a trusted language service partner

As healthcare continues to adapt to the “new normal” of practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations can adopt insourcing as a proactive, smart strategy to leverage staff, better serve patients, tighten their budget, and be prepared for the future.

That’s a heavy lift alone. Luckily, companies like CLI are here to help. We are fortunate to be in a position to support and guide our current customers, as well as many new ones, who are seeking quick solutions during this time. In addition to the right technology and on-demand interpreting resources, we have deep industry experience and hands-on customer care to help you set up a successful internal call center. And we shine when it comes to customizing solutions for our healthcare partners.

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