Among the changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic is the sudden increased reliance on telemedicine. In the article Telehealth Wasn’t Designed for Non-English Speakers, the online news organization The Verge considers the effect on patients who struggle with English.
Here’s the nub of the Verge’s analysis: Participating in a successful telemedicine visit is tough enough if you speak English, own the equipment, can afford data service and possess technical and language skills that allow you to navigate through sometimes complex instructions. But if you don’t have English language capacity, lack the necessary device and can’t afford a web hook-up, you’re out of luck.
The concerns go beyond the immediate COVID crisis, says Alejandra Casillas, a primary care physician and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health quoted in the article. “Casillas worries about her patients’ exposure to COVID-19, but she’s also worried about their other health conditions,” The Verge reported. “Non-English speakers in the US already are more likely to have chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, and they’re more often poorly controlled. Any disruption in care could widen the gaps.
“‘That’s the concern with digital health,’ Casillas told The Verge. ‘That it’ll improve health care for some people, but for others, it’ll throw up more barriers. Digital health is a great thing. But we haven’t been as good or intentional in thinking about how it works in different populations, she says. ‘The limited English speaking population isn’t a small group. And we’ve left them out.’”