By the middle of this century, the United States will for the first time have a language that is not English as the primary spoken language at home. You might say, “that’s so far away, who cares?” For many who will retire in the next 10 years, that will probably be an irrelevant issue. But for the vast majority of graduates who are entering the workforce, the demographic terrain will shift like no other time in history. It will occur gradually. In fact, so gradually, it will not be visible or palpable to the vast majority of doctors.
From a purely business perspective, the stakes are high. As the English-only population shrinks, doctors who do not accommodate non-English speakers will find an ever diminishing slice-of-the-pie to fight over with other doctors. But others who do adjust will see whole new areas or opportunities for practice growth.
No one will say that it will be easy for any optometry practice to shift gears. But neither should it be extraordinarily difficult. To guide those who do venture into this part of the marketplace, a timeless adage, “like likes like” should serve as a guide. This translates into making your office culturally and language appropriate (“CLAS”). With nearly 60 years of federal and state legislative, regulatory and judicial action, meeting CLAS standards will not be overly laborious.
Here are a few tips to help your practice meet CLAS standards. First, acquire foreign language skills both in your office staff and providers (doctors). Language training is available for any number of languages at private and public schools in practically every community in the U.S. Second, have written materials in languages other than English. Third, listen to your patients for the possibility or potential for folk medicine and accommodate it. For many, many cultures, folk medicine is an integral part of their well-being and dismissing it will risk losing the patient’s trust. Lastly, meet community groups who represent these cultural groups and tell them of your interest and how your office has begun equipping itself to be CLAS compliant. In most cases, non-English speakers always appreciate someone who is trying to learn their language or take the time to understand their culture.
Knowing and meeting CLAS standards isn’t strictly a business issue. It can also be legal. Since the passage of the US Civil Rights Act 1964, language can no longer be used as a legitimate defense to medical misadventures or mistake. There is precedence now shifts the burden of proof from the patient to the doctor in cases of medical liability cases where language has served as a key component to a wayward clinical decision just because of language difficulties.
As health care providers, optometrists have a stake in staying prosperous. There is opportunity in transforming your practice toward CLAS compliance.
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