Healthcare Language Access Case Study:
How UW Health Delivers High Quality Health Care in the Language of their Patients
About UW Health: UW Health (uwhealth.org) is an academic health system associated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison serving a diverse patient population. It encompasses the research, education and patient care activities that take place at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and within UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority. The health system is home to UW Health at The American Center, American Family Children's Hospital, UW Medical Foundation and UW Carbone Cancer Center. The health system operates 648 beds and employs over 13,000 medical professionals.
UW Health Interpreter Services Staff: Left to right, back: Guadalupe Mangin, CHI, UW Health Staff Spanish Medical Interpreter, Beatriz Fernández-Jordá, CHI, UW Health Staff Spanish Medical Interpreter, Cecilia Pous, CHI, UW Health Staff Spanish Medical Interpreter, Diana Altuzar, CHI, UW Health Staff Spanish Medical Interpreter; Front: Kim Bagley, NIC, UW Health Staff Sign Language Medical Interpreter, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, CHI-Spanish, UW Health Director of Community Partnerships and Interpreter Services
Known for exceptional patient care, UW Health recognizes the need to communicate and provide services in the language of their patients. Located in the Mid-West, the health system serves a growing diverse patient population, encountering many different languages from patients who do not speak or understand the English language. “Other than English, sixty-percent of the languages spoken by our patients are Spanish, followed by Hmong, Chinese-Mandarin, Korean, and Arabic,” states Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, M.A., CHI™-Spanish, Director of Interpreter Services & Community Partnerships for UW Health.
Bidar, also a professional interpreter in French and Spanish, has been with the provider for over 18 years in their interpreter services department. “Interpreter services is able to support over 23 different languages through different patient encounters. We’re able to interpret from the patient’s native language to English through video meetings, face-to-face encounters, and over the phone situations.”
Bidar is responsible for the management, staffing, and quality assurance of 7 employees and over 80 contractors who help UW Health communicate in the language of their patients. In fact, she was the provider’s first Spanish interpreter in 1997 and has since then helped the health system respond and be pro-active in how they communicate with their limited English proficient (LEP) patient population. “Due to the ability to communicate with patients in so many different languages, UW Health is able to focus on the specific needs of our patients and their families. We are a partner in their health care by overcoming language barriers. It makes a difference in outcome of care the patient receives when you are able to speak their language.”
RECOGNIZING THE NEED FOR STANDARDIZATION & CERTIFICATION FOR HEALTHCARE INTERPRETERS
UW Health knew that they needed to go beyond providing a human voice to interpret between the patient and provider – they needed to ensure all of their medical interpreters were operating at the highest possible standards and regulations for the best level of patient care. “As of January 2013, we required that all of our staff interpreters and contractors are certified healthcare interpreters,” adds Bidar. “We needed a better way to ensure language quality. This was a huge challenge prior to certification.”
Naturally, UW Health turned to the CCHI – the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters - for guidance on national certification of their medical interpreters.
“We selected CCHI because they are the voice of the healthcare interpreting industry,” says Bidar. “It was a very natural move for us. Their thirteen Commissioners are true leaders and innovators in healthcare interpreting, and were instrumental in creating the industry standard healthcare providers trust and rely on when using interpreters. During the certification process, CCHI provided testing and guidance on the reality of day-to-day interpreting and expectations. CCHI is the only national certifying body offering a core-level certification for interpreters of any language, the CoreCHI™ certification, in addition to the language-specific CHI™ certification in Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin. Having these two levels of certification allows us to have certified interpreters of all languages for our patients.”
“UW Health is truly a leader in how they communicate with their LEP patients and support their diverse patient communities,” says Alejandro Maldonado, B.A., CHI™-Spanish, CCHI Chair. “We helped certify all of their interpreter resources and, through our continuing education requirements, provide additional support for the interpreters’ professional development. Their commitment to meeting the national standards in interpreting services ultimately results in improved quality of care for the patient and increased professional accountability of interpreters.”
THE CRITICAL IMPORTANCE FOR HEALTHCARE INTERPRETER CERTIFICATION
Bidar outlined the importance of employing CCHI-certified healthcare interpreters. CCHI certification:
- Provides patients with the best quality of care at every point of interaction,
- Promotes the highest level of standards in interpreter services,
- Meets accreditation requirements through The Joint Commission,
- Creates an academic culture and positions healthcare interpreters as true professionals.
EVALUATING THE CCHI EXPERIENCE AS THE INDUSTRY VOICE
UW Health reported that the transition to CCHI national certification was a smooth process. Specifically, high marks were provided in the following areas:
- Certification information was provided quickly to UW Health by CCHI
- Sample certification testing was readily available and helped paint a picture of what to expect
- 24/7 access to resources, guides, and content – both for interpreters and providers - was made available on CCHI’s website for immediate download.
As LEP patients in UW Health’s market area continue to increase, Bidar stated that the health system has several initiatives within the community to respond for the future need of additional interpreter resources. “We are currently partnering with our local community college on training and developing of future interpreters. Additionally, the health system is constantly monitoring the growth of additional languages we encounter.”
PROVIDER TO PROVIDER ADVICE ON LANGUAGE ACCESS
It’s no doubt that UW Health has had the unique opportunity to grow and respond to their LEP market, emerging from a single interpreter department to one with strategic guidance from a full-time director with resources spanning full-time certified interpreters and contractors.
“Providers need to understand that collaboration is key when creating a pool of professional interpreters,” Bidar says. “Reach out to other providers in your area or network. You may need to explore sharing of resources based on geography or need. We’ve completed this locally and have come together within the healthcare community to provide equal access to health care in the language of the patient. Additionally, quality should lead you directly to certification. The ability to provide a professionally certified healthcare interpreter should be no different when pursuing high quality healthcare standards. It’s really not as hard as it seems when transitioning to certified interpreters. It is such a relief knowing your interpreters have reached such rigorous standards.”