Can You Hear Me Now?: Joint Commission Seeks to Improve Patient-Provider Communication

As part of its hospital accreditation program, The Joint Commission recently approved new and revised requirements to improve communication between patients and healthcare providers. These changes are designed to increase quality and safety through effective communication, cultural competence and patient- and family-centered care.

• Providing language servicesLanguage interpreting options may include hospital-employed language interpreters, contract interpreting services or trained bilingual staff, and may be provided in person or by telephone or video. Ensure that those who are bilingual can accurately interpret medical and health issues. The hospital determines which translated documents and languages are needed based on its patient population.

• Defining qualifications for language interpreters and translatorsCurrent standards require hospitals to define staff qualifications for various roles. A note is being added to explain that hospitals should also define staff qualifications for language interpreters and translators. Many times, people who can speak certain languages are not qualified to translate medical and health information.

• Identifying and addressing patient communication needs as part of the patient care processThe hospital must identify the patient’s communication needs, including the preferred language for discussing healthcare. Specific to the communication needs mentioned in this standard, think broadly about barriers that may be present in diverse patient populations. For example, patients who are intubated may need a communication board, and patients with low health literacy may need plain language materials. Also, consider the use of effective communication media, such as pictures and videos. The preferred language part of this requirement suggests that a patient may want to receive healthcare information in a language that is different from his or her primary language.

• Collecting data about race, ethnicity and communication needs, including the preferred language for discussing healthcareDocumentation of these topics in the medical record helps ensure safe, high-quality care. This information also can help the hospital plan for the provision of population-specific care, such as interpretation and translation services. Take care to avoid stereotyping patients based on race and ethnicity. Instead, use this information to better individualize care.

• Ensuring patient access to the chosen support individualThe hospital should allow patients to decide who will stay with them during hospitalization. This individual should stay as long as the patient desires, unless that individual’s presence infringes on the rights and safety of others or is medically or therapeutically contraindicated. Also, the individual may or may not be the patient’s surrogate decision-maker or legally authorized representative. This requirement dovetails with President Barack Obama’s presidential memorandum about hospital visitation, issued on April 15, 2010.

• Prohibiting discrimination in patient careThe hospital prohibits discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, language, physical or mental disability, socioeconomic status, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The new and revised elements of performance will be in the 2011 hospital accreditation standard but will not factor into an organization’s accreditation decision. The Joint Commission has not communicated a definite date for measuring the standards for accreditation purposes.

For more details on The Joint Commission’s efforts to improve patient-provider communication, visit its website. For information on cultural diversity, view the DiversityRx “Your Voice” webinar and check out Elsevier/MC Strategies’ online course, The Joint Commission/OSHA Compliance.

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