Kaiser Permanente Reveals How Limited English Proficiency Impacts Telemedicine

Language Interpreting over Video for LEP Patients

A study of patients seeking primary care during the Covid-19 pandemic, led by scientists from Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) and published by the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network on November 4, 2021, revealed a number of data points that are of interest for the language industry.

Researchers surveyed an extensive sample of telemedicine cases: 955,352 primary care (virtual) visits — comprising 39.6% via video remote interpretation (VRI) and 60.3% over the phone interpretation (OPI) — scheduled by 642,370 patients.

According to the study, telemedicine uptake among the 25 million people with limited English proficiency (LEP) living in the US is hampered by “overlapping low digital literacy and health literacy.” Not surprising.

What is noteworthy is how those with prior telemedicine video experience did not significantly differ in LEP versus non-LEP adult patients in terms of the likelihood that they would come back for another similar consultation.

Surveyed as to the likelihood that they would again choose a video telemedicine consultation, 47.2% of LEP adults said they would, compared to 49.1% of their English-proficient counterparts.

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This suggests, the KPNC study said, that “patients with LEP were not dissuaded by their initial video visit experiences”; and, therefore, “it is reasonable to hypothesize that helping adults with LEP overcome initial barriers to using video visits will result in more frequent future video visit use.”

Other interesting data points revealed by the study…

  • Among patients without prior video visit experience, LEP adults (28.9%) were less likely to use video visits compared to non-LEP (35.9%)
  • Regardless of age, LEP patients (34.5%) chose video less often than non-LEP (39.8%).
  • And the number of Asians who needed an interpreter were exactly the same as Hispanics / Latinos!

The researchers qualified that the study was limited by their reliance on electronic health records documenting “interpreter need as a proxy for LEP.”

They added that, given the “rapid expansion and likely persistence of video telemedicine for delivering primary care, additional research is needed to identify barriers to initial video telemedicine use among patients with LEP.”