Language Training

Speaking the language of patient-centered care

Spanish for Healthcare Workers

Regardless of the location or type of medicine practiced, language is at the core of patient-centered care. This is because every patient visit starts with a question. 

“What brings you in today?” 

“Where does it hurt?”

 “When did the symptoms start?”

How your staff asks that question marks the first touchpoint in a patient-centered experience. But what do we mean when we talk about patient-centered healthcare? 

 A 2001 article from the Institute of Medicine succinctly describes patient-centered care as “…providing care that is respectful of, and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” 

In other words, patient-centered care is collaborative. It’s a relationship-building approach to ensure each patient’s needs are met in a way that puts their concerns, fears, anxieties at ease and brings their values to the forefront of their engagements, treatment, and follow-up care. 

This makes clear, effective, and empathetic communication the keystone of providing an excellent level of care. Yet, language barriers across the healthcare system make it difficult to deliver on the promise of patient-centered experiences. 

How language presents a barrier for patient-centered providers. 

It’s probably little surprise that in the US multilingual healthcare is in high demand. 

Roughly 20% of the general population is non-English-speaking, and more than 43 million Americans currently speak Spanish as their first language. That’s more than 12% of the total US population. When your non-English-speaking patients don’t feel like they’re truly heard and understood, it can make patient-centered care very difficult. 

The seemingly quick fix is to turn to third-party providers like classroom tutors and instructors to support your staff. While these services are readily available, they are expensive and nearly impossible to coordinate with the hectic and unpredictable schedules of healthcare staff. And even if you are able to ‘make it work’, maintaining regular attendance and engagement is another problem classroom-only sessions aren’t flexible enough to solve. 

The Picker Institute’s eight principles of patient-centered care. 

To further illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the Picker Institute’s Eight Principles of Patient-Centered Care. While the roots of these principles can be traced to the celebrated 1993 book Through the Patient’s Eyes, these concepts were largely developed through a series of focus groups made up of recently discharged patients, their family members, physicians, and adjacent hospital staff. 

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School, on behalf of the Picker Institute and The Commonwealth Fund, helped shape these 8 guiding principles for what constitutes patient-centered care. As you can see, the majority of these principles are deeply rooted in language skills, communication, and a clear understanding of the patients’ preferences: 

These principles require a sophisticated grasp on how to communicate with non-English- speaking patients. Everything from showing respect for your patients’ needs to offering emotional support for distressed patients requires a nuanced understanding of both language and cultural differences to ensure that your patients feel involved and empowered throughout their care. 

To be absolutely clear, overcoming language barriers is not an easy problem to solve for your staff. Freeing up time for them to learn a new language can be difficult to do and hard to regulate. 

Given these challenges, you’re probably grappling with the question facing most providers in the country: how do you implement a language solution for your staff to better serve your patients? It starts with choosing the right program that offers your staff flexibility in how they learn, while offering management a way to measure and stay in tune with each learner’s progress. 

Equip your healthcare staff with modern, immersive language training. 

The hardest part of implementing a language training solution? Keeping your employees engaged in the learning process. Our own research has revealed some common truths about learner engagement: 

  1. The top barrier to learning a new language in the workplace is bandwidth. Most employees are concerned about finding the time to learn. On the flip side, 74% of Rosetta Stone users are eager to learn in spare time at work. 
  2. 66% of people managers cite communication as an essential skill to improve. 
  3. 75% of learners would take a language training course if it was recommended by a manager. 

The takeaway here is that successful language programs allow employees to learn a language at their own pace with encouragement from their managers along the way. 

Great patient relationships start with a conversation. 

With flexible language training from Rosetta Stone, healthcare providers can reduce language barriers and drive towards truly patient-centered care at a fraction of the cost of classroom-only programs. That way, everyone along the care continuum from front-line staff to physician specialists are equipped to communicate and deliver a great experience to each patient and their families. 

Ezekiel Rudick
Creative Services Manager
Ezekiel leads the Rosetta Stone® Enterprise creative team by using a combination of thoughtful design and creative storytelling to tell meaningful enterprise language training narratives. In his free time, he records and tours with his band Young Elk, and hikes the Olympic Peninsula as often as humanly possible.