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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As telemedicine use explodes during the pandemic, language interpretation services have lagged behind.

Why it matters: Telemedicine has been a vital lifeline, but if it's going to fully supplement conventional health care, it needs to be able to serve everyone — including people with little or no English skills.

Driving the news: A report this month by FAIR Health found telehealth claims increased by 8,336% nationally between April 2019 and April 2020, rising to 13% of all claims.

  • That increase was almost entirely due to the effects of the pandemic lockdown, which kept patients out of hospitals and doctors' offices.

Yes, but: The nearly 10% of the American population that has limited English proficiency risks being left behind by the telehealth boom, says Kristin Quinlan, the CEO of Certified Languages International. "Too few telehealth platforms are working to build in services for video interpretation."

  • Federal law mandates that any health care provider who received federal funding or reimbursement must provide language access services to patients with limited English proficiency.
  • But that's easier said than done in a country where residents speak hundreds of languages, Quinlan says.

Certified Languages International offers remote interpretation services that can be connected to telehealth calls — including in video, which is important for registering the body language of both providers and patients.

  • Minneapolis-based Allina Health has integrated interpretation into its telemedicine services, notes Frederick Bw’Ombongi, Allina's vice president for access management. "We don't want our most vulnerable patients to be left behind."

The bottom line: It's important to ensure that new technologies are designed to be fair before they become established — not after.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Oct 21, 2020 - Health

The overwhelming aftershocks of the pandemic

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic will wreak havoc on the U.S. health care system long after it ends — whenever that may be.

Why it matters: The pre-pandemic health care system was already full of holes, many of which have been exposed and exacerbated over the past several months, and many Americans will be stuck with that system as they grapple with the long-term consequences of the pandemic.

U.S. grants temporary protected status to thousands of Venezuelans

Venezuelan citizens participate in the vote for the popular consultation in December 2020, as part of a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Doral, Florida. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Venezuelans living in the United States will be eligible to receive temporary protected status for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to the U.S. amid economic, political and social turmoil back home. Former President Trump, on his last full day in office, granted some protections to Venezuelans through the U.S. Deferred Enforced Departure program, but advocates and lawmakers said the move didn't go far enough.

"She-cession" threatens economic recovery

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Decades of the slow economic progress women made catching up to men evaporated in just one year.

Why it matters: As quickly as those gains were erased, it could take much, much longer for them to return — a warning Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued today.