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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

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.

Updated 10 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."