Initiatives aim to enhance patient communications

AMA, NIH announce programs

A report offering guidelines to help health care organizations ensure effective, patient-centered communications with patients of diverse backgrounds has been released by the American Medical Association (AMA) Ethical Force Program.

Hospitals can use the report to identify areas of strength or weakness and focus resources where needed, according to a statement from the program, which is field-testing an organizational self-assessment toolkit based on the report.

The report separates organizational performance into six main areas and three "sub-areas." Quality improvement efforts to promote patient-centered communication could focus on any or all of these interrelated areas, which include:

  • understand your organization's commitment;
  • collect information;
  • engage communities;
  • develop workforce;
  • engage individuals;
  • sociocultural context;
  • language;
  • health literacy;
  • evaluate performance.

It lists a number of specific, measurable expectations for performance in each of these areas — more than 50 in all.

The AMA's Institute for Ethics and Health Research and Educational Trust, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, is conducting the program's initiative on patient-centered communication. More information is available at

In another effort aimed at enhancing patient-provider communication, the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, has published a guide to help older Hispanics communicate effectively with their physicians and other health care providers.

The Spanish-language publication also helps consumers choose a physician, prepare for an appointment, work with an interpreter, discuss sensitive health issues, and find additional information in Spanish.

A national program recently announced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is designed to support hospitals in improving the quality and availability of health care language services for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

"Speaking Together: National Language Services Network" (NLSN) has four goals:

  • To improve communication between patients with LEP and their health care providers.
  • To work in partnership with hospitals to develop models of high-quality language services.
  • To develop useful measures in the area of language services to enable hospitals to conduct ongoing measurement of effectiveness and create performance benchmarks.
  • To encourage the spread of successful strategies to increase language services within and across hospitals and health systems.

The core component of the program is a 16-month hospital learning collaborative aimed at fostering shared learning and innovation among participants. Sites selected to participate in the collaborative will receive grants of up to $60,000, as well as technical assistance and training using measures developed by the national program office (NPO). George Washington University Medical Center will serve as the NPO for this program.

Eligible sites are non-federal, general acute-care hospitals that have a minimum of 10,000 discharges per year and serve substantial numbers of patients with LEP. Hospitals must be operating a language services program that involves on-site professional interpreters.