MultiCare Kent Clinic bridges language barriers to serve one of the most diverse communities in the state
Russian. Spanish. Arabic. Punjabi. Somali. For providers and staff at the MultiCare Kent Clinic, communicating with patients in any of these languages and many more is just another day at the clinic.
Kent, according to a 2017 report, is the third-most diverse midsize city in the country, and by far the most diverse in the state. In 2018 alone, nearly 2,000 patient appointments in the clinic have been conducted so far in languages other than English.
The diversity of the patients has given the Kent clinic a unique challenge in bridging communication barriers to provide care across such a broad spectrum of languages and cultures.
“We have people come in who have been in the country for three days and come to get their kids immunized for school. That’s the kind of situation we are faced with on a regular basis,” says Kathy Dickman, MultiCare Kent Family Practice clinic supervisor.
With such an array of languages, keeping a staff of in-person translators simply isn’t feasible. Using telephonic translations also proved to be challenging in many cases because of the lack of visual and cultural context.
“It’s always been a very diverse community and has gotten more diverse over the last few years,” says Hilton Chen, MD, a family practice physician who started at the clinic in 2002.
Although Chen says that in-person translators would be the optimal solution, they simply aren’t feasible for such a broad variety of languages and cultures. This has led the clinic to rely on two key approaches to communicate effectively.
For one, the composition of the clinic’s staff has evolved into highly diverse mix over the years. In fact, multiple providers specifically sought out the opportunity to help care for such a broad group of patients.
Mojgan Mohandesi, MD, is a family practice doctor at the clinic.
“I saw different types of clinics but I liked it here because I like the multicultural aspect,” she says. “We are interconnected with different cultures here.”
Chen says having multilingual providers with cultural connections helps the patients build trust and form bonds.
“They come to the providers who can relate to them, and often refer their friends and family members,” Chen says. “Word of mouth is huge.”
Millicent Mbue, originally from Kenya, is an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the clinic. She says “once the patient sees or understands that they are from the same country, then there is an instant connection.” She adds that having similar cultural backgrounds with patients helps her and other providers provide culturally appropriate care for patients.
But a diverse provider base isn’t a complete solution when dealing with such a broad array of languages, and that’s where technology comes in. The clinic leverages the In Demand video translation service, which uses a California-based pool of interpreters with basic medical backgrounds to connect patients and providers with the click of a button.
Multiple rooms in the clinic have been outfitted with dedicated monitors and cameras to allow patients and translators to see each other. The service provides a menu of more than 100 languages (including sign language), and translators can be selected from either gender, which helps the staff provide culturally appropriate care.
“We select a language and a gender and a face pops up on the screen on the wall — it’s like they are in the room,” Dickman says.
Although patient populations across the system may not be as diverse as in Kent, MultiCare is still looking to the Kent Clinic’s solution as a model for the future as community makeups continue to change.
And as the Kent Clinic prepares to move into its new building in January 2019, the number of rooms equipped with the translation setup will be greatly expanded.
“We never want to risk missing important information because of translations. I couldn’t live with that,” Dickman says.
About The Author
Mark Swart joined MultiCare Health System after retiring from Army Public Affairs at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wa. He has extensive storytelling and communications experience from operations around the globe. Mark enjoys being active outdoors, whether it is running, sailing, motorcycling or even working in his yard.More stories by this author