Communication Matters: Translating After-Visit Summaries for Patient Understanding

Communication Matters: Translating After-Visit Summaries for Patient Understanding

Today, increasing language access in the U.S. healthcare industry is more important than ever. About 29.6 million people are identified as having limited English proficiency (LEP). Because of this, the translation of many patients’ after-visit summaries when attending a medical appointment becomes crucial.  

What is an AVS and why is it important?  

An after-visit summary (AVS) serves as a post-appointment document for patients that summarizes their health status and outlines future care steps, including self-management tasks. This document is so important to have because it enhances care and health outcomes for both adult and pediatric patients and makes life easier for their families or caregivers. The AVS includes treatment decisions for acute and chronic conditions, while for pediatric patients, it aids in tracking growth, development, immunizations, and specific instructions related to diagnoses. It’s a valuable tool for guiding self-care outside clinical settings, planning future appointments, and sharing crucial information with other healthcare providers. 

The critical role of AVS translations  

To better understand the important role translation plays in the realm of AVS documents, let’s look at a helpful example. An adult needs to start taking a statin medication (a group of medicines that help lower your cholesterol) and the explanation in their AVS is in a language they don’t speak, or they are not proficient in. In this case, the patient will likely not realize what they need to do next, and their cholesterol will go unchecked. Any type of misunderstanding will interfere with the patient’s current condition.  

Patients have the right to understand their health status and the instructions they must follow to take care of themselves, or in the case of parents, to take care of their children’s health. Having access to an AVS in their native language decreases the risk of them making a mistake when taking medication or missing their next medical appointment.   

How accessible language increases patient comprehension  

Understanding their medical condition can feel overwhelming for patients, which is why a compassionate approach is always necessary when it comes to communication. The message conveyed, irrespective of language, should be clear and accurate. That way, patients can easily grasp the necessary steps for recovery. Translating such documents requires tailoring the language, style, and tone to suit the recipient. Utilizing straightforward language aids in effective communication, fostering trust and respect between patients and their healthcare providers. 

For instance, while translating medication prescriptions and instructions it’s best to add the generic drug name to help patients locate their medicine easily at their local pharmacy. This thoughtful approach enhances comprehension and ensures better adherence to treatment. 

Another effective approach involves adapting complex medical terms and clarifying acronyms to ensure patients comprehend instructions for properly taking their prescribed medication. For example, rather than directly translating abbreviations like “4 puffs Q4 PRN for wheezing or cough” in EN>ES, it’s preferable to break it down into easy-to-understand steps.  

Providing instructions like “4 descargas cada 4 horas, cuando sea necesario en caso de sibilancia o tos” in Spanish, which translates to “4 puffs every 4 hours, when necessary, in case of wheezing or cough,” helps patients grasp the information more clearly and accurately. 


To recap—an AVS holds significant importance in the medical field, particularly for vulnerable groups facing communication barriers, like those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

Clear communication serves as the cornerstone for establishing trust and respect between healthcare providers and patients. This, in turn, leads to enhanced care, improved health outcomes, and a more positive healthcare journey overall. Advocating for increased language access is pivotal in shaping a healthcare system that is more inclusive and centered around the needs of the patient. It’s a step toward creating a healthcare environment that prioritizes every individual’s understanding and comfort, fostering a more equitable and patient-focused approach. 

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