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Communication in the Workforce: Providing Health Care Information to Multilingual Members

By Heather Kerrigan | Feb 28, 2018

According to the Migration Policy Institute, almost 26 million U.S. residents have limited proficiency in English. Individuals with limited English proficiency are more likely to experience adverse health events, longer stays in the hospital and more frequent readmission.

This makes inclusive communication in the workforce a priority, especially when conveying health plan information and care options. Evaluating how you communicate with multilingual members and taking steps to make information more accessible can help prevent time-consuming and costly errors.

The Importance of Communicating Well With Multilingual Members

It's important to improve communication in the workforce so that multilingual members understand their insurance options. This helps ensure that all members can make informed decisions about their health care benefits. Due to the language barrier, for example, an employee:

  • May choose a plan they can't afford
  • May not enroll by the deadline
  • May not seek care when necessary
  • May not take advantage of wellness programs or discounts that help lower overall cost to both the member and employer

Not only do these factors impact the bottom line for both member and plan provider, they also represent a breakdown in trust between the members and their union. A member should feel comfortable asking questions and should feel confident in the health plan information presented, regardless of their native language. It falls to trustees to ensure that all members can use the health plan information provided to choose what's right for them.

Best Practices for Translating Health Care Information

When building out a plan to communicate health coverage information to your multilingual members, it's important to first consider how they're most comfortable receiving information. There are specific cultural differences, for example, in how people prefer to communicate, according to the Harvard Business Review. Preferences can be gathered by speaking to your multilingual members either in person or through an anonymous survey.

Next, determine how to best translate your health care information. Speak to your insurance provider to determine if materials are already available for you to distribute. If not, hire a professional translator with health care experience. Do not rely on online translation programs, as these can introduce disruptive errors and inaccuracies.

Once the materials are translated, consider contracting with an interpreter who can provide on-call assistance to your members, as it's likely they'll have questions about their options or steps for enrollment, and you'll get the best outcome if your members can communicate in the language they're most comfortable with. Be sure to put confidentiality agreements in place before any health care discussions with members occur.

Making English-Language Resources More Accessible

It may be impossible for you to provide translated materials for all the languages your members speak. This is why it's important to ensure your English-language resources are written with multilingual members in mind. Avoid jargon, idioms and other terms that may be difficult for speakers of other languages.

Reach out to some of your multilingual members and ask them if current health care information is difficult to understand and how the materials can be revised to more appropriately delivers much-needed information. Also emphasize where members can go to ask questions and that they are encouraged to do so.

Putting some additional work toward better communication in the workplace — especially as it relates to health care information — will be greatly appreciated by your members, and it can prevent costly insurance errors or care decisions. Above all, be sure to continuously make your multilingual members comfortable so they feel empowered to ask questions and take advantage of their coverage. Improving the flow of communication benefits everyone.

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.

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