August 1, 2012 in City, Health
Interpreter system is now streamlined
Washington officials hope a new system for coordinating medical interpreters will be less cumbersome and costly than its predecessor.
The new system was ordered by the Legislature, which directed the Health Care Authority to achieve a 32 percent savings in the current biennium. The cost of the program in the 2009-’11 biennium was $29 million.
The new system, which will be launched today, will reduce administrative and direct service costs of the program, the Health Care Authority announced Monday. It will allow doctors to choose the level of interpreter presence needed – in-person, by telephone or by video – on a case-by-case basis. Previously, when a patient needed an interpreter, the interpreter would attend the appointment in person.
“Telephone interpreting and video-remote interpreting are expected to cost less,” said Todd Slettvet, community services section manager. “In the current system, we often pay travel time for an interpreter to get to an appointment. Often times, the interpreter is waiting in the waiting room and we pay for all this time.”
Federal civil rights law dictates it is up to the provider to ensure they can adequately communicate with Medicaid patients. Washington is one of about 12 states that have programs to assist health care providers with patients who have limited English-language skills by sharing the cost of translator services. About 200 languages are spoken in Washington, and while interpreters are available for most, video translation will allow for the use of out-of-state interpreters when an in-state interpreter is unavailable for a particular language.
The successful bidder on the contract, CTS Language Link, is based in Vancouver, Wash. The Health Care Authority required the successful bidder to use Web-based technology for processing, scheduling and assigning interpreters.
Previously, the Health Care Authority would contact a broker, who would contact a regional interpreter service, which would then find an interpreter to attend the appointment. Now, the authority will go directly to CTS Language Link for interpreters.
Slettvet said he believes this is the only system of its kind in the United States.
The medical interpreters are certified by the state Department of Social and Health Services Language Testing and Certification program. The new program will be phased in over two weeks.