State Health Commissioner Novello Coordinates with Hospitals to Assure Access to High Quality Health Care for Patients

Proposal Provides Hospitals with 'Blueprint' to Meet the Communication Needs of Patients

ALBANY, NY, September 16, 2005 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today proposed patient interpreter services as part of new regulations that would help ensure the delivery of quality health care to hospital patients with limited English proficiency or disabilities.

Dr. Novello said, "It is essential and of the utmost importance for hospitals to implement measures to communicate effectively with every patient – including offering free interpreter services. The proposal provides hospitals with a blueprint that, when fully implemented, will ensure that they are providing the best and most comprehensive care to patients."

Currently, federal Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and state regulations require hospitals to provide interpretation services to patients with difficulty speaking English or who have disabilities affecting their communication. State regulations specifically require hospitals to make resources and interpreters available to such patients within 20 minutes following admission or during an outpatient visit, and within 10 minutes if the patient is in the emergency department.

Dr. Novello said the new regulatory proposal, which has the support of key hospital associations and advocacy groups, would require hospitals statewide to create and implement formal Language Assistance Programs (LAPs). The establishment of these programs will assure appropriate communication with patients on such critical issues as treatment options, informed consent, discharge plans and health care proxy decisions.

Under this expanded process, hospitals will discourage the use of family members, as well as individuals under 16 years of age as interpreters, except in emergency situations. This expanded process will help ensure the quality of interpreter services and protect a patient's right to confidentiality.

When interpreting vital medical information, the accuracy of the translation is crucial to ensuring that patients are fully informed and able to make decisions about their health care. Family members or minors may be fluent in conversational language, but may be unprepared to interpret complex medical information.

Many of New York's hospitals have already implemented policies and protocols to provide effective communication assistance to patients in need of such services. Some hospitals have created LAPs, appointed LAP coordinators, developed brochures or palm cards notifying patients of the availability of free interpreter services, and even purchased over-the-phone translation services to assist patients with their communication needs. The proposed regulations will bring uniformity and consistency to the process in hospitals statewide.

To ensure that the 'standard of care' is being met and that patients' rights are protected, the proposal would essentially require hospitals in New York State to:

  • Create LAPs and name a Language Assistance Coordinator who would oversee communication assistance services in the hospital and report to the hospital administration;
  • Implement policies that will assure that the patient's communication needs and language preference, are identified, confirmed and documented in the front page of his or her medical record during the initial hospital visit;
  • Post signage in entrance ways and common areas of the hospital offering free interpreter services;
  • Provide continuing education and training to staff on the importance of delivering culturally and linguistically competent services, as well as how to access interpreter services on behalf of patients; and
  • Conduct annual assessments of the linguistic needs among the population in the communities the hospital serves, and evaluate whether those needs are being met.

Dr. Novello said, "In a state as culturally and linguistically diverse as New York, where one in five New Yorkers is foreign born and approximately 150 languages are spoken, it is essential that we continue to work with hospital associations and advocacy groups to move these proposed regulations forward. Clearly, we must continue to adapt to the changing demographics here in New York, and tailor our health care system to meet those demands."

"Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA) and its members share the State Health Department's goal of ensuring meaningful access to quality care for all communities, regardless of the languages that they speak or the cultures from which they come," said GNYHA president Kenneth E. Raske. "The proposal provides a strong framework for enabling effective communication with patients and we applaud the Department's efforts in this regard."

Daniel Sisto, President of the Healthcare Association of New York State, said, "The Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) and its member hospitals agree with Dr. Novello that to provide the best possible care to patients we need to communicate effectively with them. HANYS was pleased to be involved in the process for developing the proposed regulations and remains committed to providing the highest quality of care to patients."

Chung-Wha Hong, Deputy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, "These regulations will make it clear that hospitals are expected to communicate with patients in a language they can understand. We are pleased that the State Health Department is moving forward with this proposal to ensure that New York's hospital patients receive high quality health care."

The Department is in the process of finalizing the regulations. The proposal will be presented for discussion to the State Hospital Review and Planning Council's Codes and Regulations Committee on Thursday, September 22, 2005. The proposal will also be submitted to the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform for review and approval and subsequently will be placed in the State Registry for public comment for 45 days from the date they are published. Once the public comment period is completed, the regulations would go to the full State Hospital Review and Planning Council for approval. The regulations, if approved, could take effect as early as June 2006.

For more information on patient rights and communication assistance, visit the State Health Department's web site at: www.health.ny.gov.