Joint Commission Releases New Standards Related to Communication

by Cynthia E. Roat, MPH

In January 2010, The Joint Commission approved a number of revised hospital accreditation standards related to communication. These new standards are significant because they deal directly with language needs and interpreting. While it is true that previous standards on communication could not be met for limited-English-proficient patients without language assistance, these standards address language barriers directly. But what do they mean for your healthcare facility?

Your hospital may already have systems in place that meet the new Standards. Here are some of the points that Joint Commission Surveyors are likely to be looking at now:

How do you qualify your interpreters and translators? Do you have minimum requirements based on a language proficiency test, education, training, and/or experience? It is likely that routinely using untrained and untested ad-hoc interpreters and translators will no longer be acceptable.

How do you identify and record the patient’s need for language assistance? Documentation of language needs at points of first contact will be required. In addition, language needs must be documented in the patient’s medical record.

How do you provide oral and written language assistance?

Again, the Joint Commission Standards lists a series of options for providing language assistance; systematically using family, friends and untrained bilingual staff to interpret will likely no longer be acceptable. The Standards also include translation as a required service, although it is left to the hospital to decide which documents require translation.

If your facility is not up to standard yet, you still have time to upgrade your systems, as the standards will not be implemented before January 2011.

To learn more, attend this upcoming webinar, and hear Dr. Schyve, Senior Vice President of The Joint Commission, explain how the Standards were determined and how they will affect the Joint Commission accreditation process.

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