Healthcare :: HHS Initiative to Assist Hospitals in Effective Communication

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new program, Effective Communication in Hospitals, to assist hospitals in meeting the communication needs of individuals who do not speak English as their primary language (i.e. are limited English proficient) or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will collaborate with state hospital associations and their members to develop and implement these programs.

Hospital associations in the following nine states have committed to working on this initiative: Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington. Additional state hospital associations may be added in the future.

“An increasingly diverse population has created new challenges for health care providers. Many hospitals are actively taking steps to promote better communication with patients and families,” Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “This initiative will help hospitals move toward this critical goal — ensuring that all individuals have an equal opportunity to access quality health care.”

A central component of the initiative is collaboration between each OCR regional office and a state hospital association to develop goals and activities.

“This collaboration ensures that each project partnership will have the flexibility to develop and conduct the program that best meets the needs of the hospitals in that state, rather than be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ effort,” said Winston Wilkinson, director of OCR.

Through such a tailored program, for example, OCR will assist state hospital associations and their members in:

Developing a process for assessing the communication needs of patients and their families;
Identifying tools and strategies for developing training, best practices, educational materials, technical assistance activities and other resources;
Responding appropriately and efficiently to the communication needs of individuals who are limited English proficient or deaf or hard of hearing;
Sharing the results of efforts to assist other hospitals and state associations facing similar communication issues; and
Identifying potential resources and creative approaches to cover costs.

Complementing the state level projects is a joint effort by OCR headquarters and the American Hospital Association to ensure that the project participants have access to resource materials, share the results of the initiative with other hospitals, and address related issues of national concern.

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