Telemedicine, Section 1557, CMS, and Language Access in Rural Healthcare

Open laptop that provider uses for telemedicine encounter sitting next to a stethoscope.

Will a CMS Strategy to Leverage Telemedicine in Rural Areas Lead to an Expansion of Language Access?

In recent years, several healthcare organizations, including the American Medical Association and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to change Medicare reimbursement to better reflect the changing landscape of healthcare.

Telemedicine and connected care are changing what healthcare can do, how accessible it is, and our options for making it effective and efficient.

CMS recently announced a new Rural Health Strategy that emphasizes the use of telehealth and telemedicine in order to provide better healthcare access to rural residents in the United States. And while the strategy focuses on enhancing accessibility for rural residents, it may have another positive effect — promoting healthcare access for non-English speakers.

Section 1557, Language Access, and Telehmedicine

Telemedicine and language access services, like those provided through interpreters and translators, have similar goals. Telemedicine platforms and language service providers (LSPs) both aim to expand access to healthcare. As telehealth technologies and services mature and expand, it seems natural that more telehealth companies will integrate language access into their offerings.

CMS’s Rural Health Strategy might accelerate that process. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act significantly affected much of the healthcare industry in recent years. A U.S. Health & Human Services ruling on the law requires most healthcare organizations to provide language access through qualified interpreters and translators, and the requirement ties federal assistance through Medicare and Medicaid to adherence with the policy.

Related: The Importance of Language Access to Telehealth Utilization

How telehealth and language access go hand in hand

As providers rely on telemedicine services more frequently to make healthcare more accessible, telemedicine companies will need to integrate interpretation and translation offerings to engage non-English speakers. Language service providers like CLI make accessing a remote interpreter quick, easy, and affordable. Since language access has become such an important part of providing healthcare and engaging patients, many telemedicine platforms will need to assimilate these accessibility services to be successful.

To learn more about how Section 1557 has regulated access to language services in the U.S., click here download our paper “New Policies for Guaranteeing Language Access in Healthcare.”

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