The Growing Need for Language Services in Healthcare

Guest post by Sean Patrick Hopwood, MBA, president, Day Translations, Inc..

Sean Hopwood
Sean Hopwood

In almost every corner of the globe, an international population continues to grow. In the
United States, there are millions of multi-ethnic members of society who still do not have health insurance. Frequently, they also forego medical consultations and treatment because they experience difficulty in communicating with medical practitioners.

The number of adult foreign language speakers in the United States and the mandates of the Affordable Care Act have now paved the way for the more active involvement of medical interpreters in the healthcare industry.

A rise in numbers

In the past, medical interpreters facilitated two-way communication between adult patients and their doctors. Today, very few children with limited English language skills are insured under the Affordable Care Act or ACA. In view of this, medical interpreters are often called to remove the language barriers for pediatric patients who have limited proficiency in the English language. Studies have shown positive results for adult Limited English Proficient (LEP) patients when their communication is facilitated by an interpreter. Likewise positive outcomes have been recorded, showing that when the language barrier between doctors and their adult patients is removed, inappropriate treatment and misdiagnosis are eliminated.

Different situation with a child patient

When the patient is a child and the parents have limited proficiency in the English language, it often leads to children staying longer in the hospital. There had been studies conducted showing that on the average, inpatients in pediatric care stay about 60 percent longer when their parents lack fluency in the English language. With the help of medical interpreters, the number of children spending longer stays in hospitals are slowly getting reduced.

Higher demand for professional interpreters and translators

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the demand for professional translators and interpreters in general is expected to have a 29 percent increase from 2014 until 2024. This projected average job growth for language services is faster than any other occupation. This will be driven by the larger increases in the presence of non-English speakers in the United States and increasing globalization. Likewise, the bureau also projects that the demand will be for translators and interpreters who have received certification.

More than just language services providers

The medical translators and interpreters are not only utilized for language translation. They are the bridges that connect the language and cultural gaps between doctors and patients. With the help of technology, healthcare providers, especially those in the rural areas of the U.S., can easily meet their patients’ need for interpreters and translators. Interpretation by phone is now affordable. Quick response and ready availability of translators and interpreters are also enhanced by new communication tools such as smartphones and tablets.

In rural areas, video interpretation is a growing trend among patients and healthcare providers. It is easier to facilitate communication when an interpreter is online, ready to have face-to-face discussion with patient and doctor. Right now, more and more healthcare systems and hospitals are appreciating the value of video interpretation because it is a flexible and convenient option to an in-person interpretation service, particularly for younger LEP patients.

Increasing job functionalities

It is currently estimated that about 24 million Americans are still not fluent enough in English to be able to communicate effectively. Thus healthcare providers are constantly in need of professional translators and interpreters to facilitate communication as well as provide healthcare professionals with a better understanding of the cultural background of their patients. Understanding a patient’s culture has a positive influence in the healthcare decisions of the healthcare provider.

Language services providers for the healthcare industry are getting more involved in the healthcare process. They now also actively involved in the admission, consultation, examination, procedures and other interactions between patient and provider. They facilitate direct communication between doctor and patient through accurate and thorough interpretation in a language that a patient fully understands. While they still remain in the background, it is their duty to join in the conversation to respond to the evident discomfort of a patient, to rectify misunderstandings or to make particular information more comprehensible. Medical translators and interpreters actively look after the needs of both the doctor and the patient.

The language gap can be a source of misinformation, misunderstandings and fears that become barriers prevemting LEPs to seek medical attention. The growing number of forward-looking medical facilities that advocate the provision of immediate, equal and compassionate access to medical care, have opened more opportunities for language services providers. Now, even patients who speak rare languages have opportunities to receive proper medical care with the help of professional interpreters and translators.

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