Medical Interpreter Regulations for HMOs Announced
HMOs will be required to provide language assistance services at the hospitals and doctors' offices they contract with and must provide written materials translated into a patient's primary language, under draft rules the Department of Managed Health Care announced Thursday, the Oakland Tribune reports.
The rules stem from a 2003 law (SB 853) mandating that HMOs provide language assistance services to their members (Vesely, Oakland Tribune, 2/17). DHMC will finalize regulations by May (California Healthline, 2/16).
The California Association of Health Plans estimates it will cost between $15 million and $20 million to provide interpreters and translate written material.
Cindy Ehnes, director of the DMHC, said the state will work with health plans and hospitals to implement the rules. Ehnes added that innovative interpretation services -- such as videoconferencing at Alameda County Medical Center -- could serve as models for others (Oakland Tribune, 2/17).
Alameda County residents who speak limited English do not receive adequate language services at hospital emergency departments, according to a study released Wednesday by the Discrimination Research Center, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. More than half of callers who did not speak English were disconnected or a hospital employee hung up on them.
In the study, callers speaking English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Tagalog or Spanish conducted 551 tests at 12 Alameda County hospitals last year. Callers read from a script of symptoms that were serious enough to necessitate medical treatment but not severe enough to require an ambulance.
The study found:
- 62% of calls in Vietnamese resulted in a hang-up or disconnection;
- About 50% of Vietnamese-speaking callers were not connected to a Vietnamese speaker;
- 63% of calls in Cantonese resulted in a hang-up;
- About 55% of calls made in Tagalog were transferred to someone who spoke that language;
- 62% of calls in Spanish were transferred to a Spanish speaker;
- None of the calls in English resulted in a hang-up; and
- English-speaking callers were never put on hold longer than 10 minutes.
Inadequate language services can compound patients' health conditions, according to the study.
The study recommends that hospital officials appoint a staff member to coordinate language services, use a multilingual telephone system and regularly conduct self-audits (Hua, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/17). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.