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Lost In Translation: Does Your Hospital Marketing & Advertising Communicate?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

megaphone communicateHow can your hospital marketing and advertising efforts communicate quality care when your patients may not fully understand your health information, advertising, letters, brochures, and social network messages? As America increasingly becomes a myriad of cultures, it’s a growing challenge to include a range of languages, cultures and customs.

To compound that headache, according to an AMA article in VirtualMentor.com, as many as 23 million Americans speak English at a level lower than "very well" and another 12 million speak our native tongue “not well” or “not at all." (More about Healthcare’s New Majority is here.)

Quality Care Should Cross Language Barriers.

The challenge, then, is to ask yourself some honest questions about how you’re approaching this growing issue.

For example, ask your communications team if they’ve done a good job of being multi-lingual in patient information as well as hospital marketing and advertising and medical practice marketing. In many countries, especially Europe, hospital websites are often multi-lingual. Imagine clicking one button to change the entire site’s language from French to Italian, from English to Cantonese, or from Spanish to Tagalog.

Another question: Is your medical practice marketing or hospital marketing communications team culturally aware and/or sensitive? In America, our customs and cultural mindset may not always mean the same thing with other cultures, more so perhaps with foreign born and older individuals who are set in their ways and new to the US.

A third question: What about facility signs and signage, if the situation requires it? While American signs are usually only in English and Braille, Canadian signs are always in two, while European signs are often presented in three or more languages.

And what about providing interpreters for foreign-born patients? In one study, more than a quarter of the patients who needed—but did not get—an interpreter reported they did not understand their medication instructions. Compare this with only two percent of those who either did not need an interpreter or needed and received one.

Of course, language barriers also impact the source of care. After all, non-English-speaking patients are less likely to use primary and preventive care and public health services in favor of emergency rooms. Once there, they receive far fewer services than do English-speaking patients.

The good news is that with today’s smartphones, language translators don’t have to be human because there’s an iPhone translation app for that.

The better news, more hospitals in Florida and Texas are hiring bilingual staff to work with their growing populations of Hispanic and other patients. More nurses in the field, such as lactation nurses, are also required to be bilingual. And a bilingual call center in (Dallas suburb) Frisco, Texas is hiring.

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