UCHealth, LanguageLine Innovate to Improve Phone Access for Limited-English Callers. Colorado health system launches two new technologies.

Colorado’s UCHealth has implemented a pair of innovative technological solutions to make the inbound telephone experience more comfortable for limited English callers, the healthcare system announced today. The effort was made in partnership with LanguageLine Solutions®, UCHealth’s longtime language-access provider. LanguageLine offers professional, on-demand interpretation in more than 240 languages.

UCHealth is a not-for-profit health system headquartered in Aurora, Colorado. The system includes hospitals and facilities throughout Colorado, along with affiliated hospitals in Wyoming and Nebraska. UCHealth estimates that nearly nine percent of the population it serves is limited English proficient (LEP), meaning those individuals are significantly challenged by the English language and are legally entitled to the assistance of an interpreter for medical care. Approximately two-thirds of UCHealth’s LEP patient population is Spanish-speaking.

“Patients have more choices today than ever before,” LanguageLine President and CEO Scott W. Klein said. “Hospitals and health systems can realize tremendous growth by eliminating language barriers. UCHealth has set a tremendous example by optimizing and streamlining the way a patient can be supported in their preferred language.”

The newly implemented technologies bring interpreters onto calls much more quickly and easily, providing better telephone access to limited English patients on a large scale. Both solutions provide a more welcoming inbound-call experience for limited English callers and discourage them from hanging up.

“Studies say that the Hispanic population – and non English speakers generally – use healthcare about one-third less than English speakers on a per-capita basis,” UCHealth Director of Language Services Scott Suckow said. “Mostly that’s due to language and cultural barriers, and the patients simply not feeling comfortable.

“If we can create an environment where everything is in their native language, they’ll be more comfortable and use our facility as a home base.”

The first of the new technologies is DirectResponseSM, which greets limited English callers in their language of choice. DirectResponse offers multiple language options. Upon selecting a language, the inbound caller is directed to an appropriate LanguageLine interpreter. Both are then connected to a UCHealth agent. The LanguageLine interpreter stays on the line for the duration of the call.

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The second technology is called Skip the IVR (Interactive Voice Response), an elegant “skip the line” capability that offers contact centers near-immediate access to interpreters by integrating their customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Most traditional models begin with the agent putting the limited English inbound caller on hold and then connecting with a language-access provider via a toll-free number. The agent may hear “Press 1 for Spanish or 2 for all other languages.” Even more time-consuming, they may have to speak with an operator who prompts the agent for language and account and patient information before searching for the interpreter. This process can take up to 30 seconds.

The “skip the line” capability dramatically quickens access to language support, potentially eliminating this 30-second delay altogether. This significantly improves the patient experience.

Once a call is received, the UCHealth call-center agent simply clicks a button in their CRM indicating the language needed. The call bypasses any IVR or data collection steps and is routed directly into the appropriate interpreter queue for the target language. It’s like an “Easy Button” for language access.

Prior to the implementation of these technologies, Suckow says UCHealth rarely handled calls from limited English patients.

“What that tells you is patients who don’t speak English do whatever they can to avoid having to call their doctor or hospital, be that having a family member call or other backdoor ways – or simply not calling at all,” Suckow said. “They’re avoiding using the telephone, which is the ‘front door’ to any health system, including ours.”

Suckow says the implementation of the new technologies has dramatically increased the number of calls from limited English patients, with call volume growing up to 10 percent month over month. The technologies have spread from basic appointment functions, to procedure scheduling, to other uses, including UCHealth’s pharmacy.

“The numbers indicate that this technology is succeeding at its purpose, which is to make us a more inclusive organization,” Suckow said. “We have typically done a great job assisting limited English patients once they were inside our door. But if the front end on the way to that door is bumpy and rough, they’re more likely going to a local safety-net hospital or a clinic that’s tailored to their cultural background. We can change that by making the front door easier to get in.” 

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