According to the 2008 U.S. Census, about 20% of people living in the United States speak a language other than English at home. In the western U.S., the percentage is 32%. In California, the percentage is 42.4%. These individuals are considered “limited English proficient” (LEP) and will likely need translation and interpretation when they visit a doctor. Because millions of people in the United States do not speak English proficiently, Medical interpreters and translators are a valuable asset to doctors and other hospital staff. The medical information being translated or interpreted could have life-changing consequences for patients and their families. In some situations, interpretation and translation can be a matter of life and death. As with another other medical staff, medical interpreters should be trained professionals. While they are not doctors or nurses, they are the only communication link between the doctor and patient. This communication includes clarity on diagnosis, symptoms, medication directions, surgical procedures, risks, and much more. A competent interpreter is someone who knows about ethics, standards of practice, confidentiality, and is proficient in English and the non-English language, including specialized medical terminology in both languages. Unfortunately, language barriers and miscommunication can lead to medical mistakes. Therefore, a patient’s health may be jeopardized if an interpreter, or medical staff using interpreter services, does not perform his or her job correctly. These medical errors can happen in many ways:
- A doctor may realize that a patient needs an interpreter and fails to obtain one.
- An interpreter may leave a non-English speaking patient before medical staff is done asking the patient questions.
- Medical staff may use untrained (and often incompetent) interpreters, family, or minors to interpret for the patient.
- Medical staff may fail to translate important documents such as informed consent forms and discharge instructions.
- A doctor or hospital may keep little or no documentation of a patient’s English proficiency or the need for an interpreter or translator.
- Interpreters may omit questions about drug allergies.
- Interpreters may omit instructions on the dose, frequency, and duration of medications.
- Interpreters may provide medical instructions that were never given by the doctor.
- Interpreters may instruct patients not to answer personal questions.
- Medical staff may incorrectly assume that when the patient and doctor were – or appeared to be – from the same ethnic background, they share the same language or same level of proficiency in a foreign language.
When a loved one is hurt because of medical practice, they deserve the best lawyer for them. I promise to do my very best to help anyone who speaks any language to find the best personal-injury attorney for them, near them, as soon as possible. ————————————————————- Primary Source: The High Costs of Language Barriers in Medical Malpractice: http://www.pacificinterpreters.com/docs/resources/high-costs-of-language-barriers-in-malpractice_nhelp.pdf