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Language Justice: Perinatal Education in Multiple Languages Means Healthier Birth Outcomes for All

Written by Kristen Gosse, BA, BS, M.Ed., Learning Strategy & Content Development Manager at InJoy Health Education

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First, ponder these facts for a moment:

  • Fact: Non-English speakers had approximately two times higher risk of having an obstetric trauma during a vaginal birth when other factors, including race/ethnicity, were controlled. Non-English speakers also had higher rates of potentially high-risk deliveries.
  • Fact: Prior studies have shown that patients in the U.S. with limited English proficiency are more likely to remain hospitalized longer, to be misdiagnosed and to be subjected to medical errors. 
  • Fact: 1 in 5 children in the United States are born to immigrant mothers.

Now, let’s talk about health literacy for a moment. Health literacy is often defined as “the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Certain population groups are more likely to experience limited health literacy. These include racial/ethnic groups other than Whites, recent refugees and immigrants, and non-native speakers of English.”

Health literacy can affect health equity.  The CDC says, “Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to ‘attain his or her full health potential’ and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”

So, what happens during labor and delivery when you have limited English proficiency (LEP)?

Language barriers take attention away from healthy outcomes. When communication is ineffective, the situation is no longer equitable or safe. The laboring person is disadvantaged and unable to make informed decisions. These LEP barriers lead to situations where patients are not only less than satisfied, but they’re also at risk for potential (sometimes deadly!) complications due to miscommunication. Ethically, there is no reason for LEP patients to have a higher risk during labor than those who are native English speakers.

This is precisely why language justice is so important. What’s language justice? According to the American Bar Association, “Language justice is an evolving framework based on the notion of respecting every individual's fundamental language rights—to be able to communicate, understand, and be understood in the language in which they prefer and feel most articulate and powerful.” Clearly, it’s very much aligned with the goals of health equity and health literacy.

Translating health content is a huge responsibility. Translating it accurately and correctly is even more so. Health education materials must be easy to read and culturally and linguistically appropriate. All too often, content designers don’t focus on all three elements (InJoy does!).

As more people immigrate into the U.S., it’s essential to provide quality translated education materials to patients. And since translators aren’t always available when and where they are most needed, especially in more rural healthcare facilities, quality translated education materials make a big difference. When patients have access to materials in their native language, they feel valued and respected. They are set up to succeed, make informed decisions, feel empowered, and ultimately have better birth experiences and outcomes.

InJoy offers multilingual pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding resources to make sure your health education efforts do not get lost in translation:

 

Kristen Gosse, BA, BS, M.Ed., is the Learning Strategy & Content Development Manager at InJoy and has her Master’s in Adult Education and Training. We rely on her talents to help create the materials you may be using in your classroom, one-on-one, or by the bedside.

 

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