The diverse multicultural character of the United States is one of its greatest strengths. However, this diversity of language and culture provides significant challenges in reaching persons with limited English proficiency. Without proper education and support in their native language, people with limited English proficiency may be more likely to experience an adverse drug event, miss a doctor’s appointment or simply misunderstand medical instructions.
Health Services Advisory Group (HSAG), the Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organization (QIN-QIO) for Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has found a variety of useful ways to reach limited English-speaking beneficiaries over the past several years. Following are five tips from HSAG to assist in improving outreach to better serve all beneficiaries:
1. Tap Your Network
QIN-QIOs can leverage their professional relationships with partner organizations and stakeholders that have strong roots in their respective communities. Ask these partners for introductions to ethnic enclaves and invite local cultural community leaders to health literacy presentations.
2. Locate Key Government Groups
Connect with state health agencies to learn more about health disparities in your state and determine important contacts for reaching non-English speaking communities. These connections with local government groups also can help establish relationships with local Area Agencies on Aging and build trust within ethnic senior centers.
3. Use Interpreters for English-Based Programs
Use a trained interpreter to accompany English-speaking presenters when providing educational programs for a primarily non-English speaking audience. If presenting at a senior center, the location may have a native-language speaker on staff that can interpret messaging, if planned in advance. The American Translators Association (ATA) provides a directory of certified interpreters on their website.
4. Use Translated Materials
Use properly translated educational materials to promote or carry out quality improvement programs to limited English-proficient seniors. This ensures that the experience of non-English speaking beneficiaries matches that of their English-speaking counterparts. QIN-QIOs can use an International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-approved translation vendor to perform translation tasks and ensure content is delivered in a reliable and accurate manner.
5. Promote Success
Interview limited English-proficient seniors, with the help of an interpreter, who have engaged in quality improvement programs and collect testimonials for use in future promotions and videos. Participants can detail the value of a program as it relates to their culture and others in their community. QIOs can disseminate these videos through social media on their websites. For examples of promoting success and reducing language barriers, visit HSAG’s Diabetes Self-Management YouTube playlist.