Why Hospitals are in Desperate Need of Interpreting Services

Matthew Bramowicz

Guest post by Matt Bramowicz, project coordinator, Translation Cloud LLC.

Consider this scenario: You rush into the hospital, your loved-one cradled in your arms. You had found them unconscious in the bathroom moments before and think you may know what had happened. You just have to tell the doctors so that they can treat them right away and save their life. Time is of the essence, though, and you fear the worst may happen if they don’t receive the right treatment immediately. The doctors run over and ask you over and over again, “What happened? Did they take anything? Do you know what is wrong?” You open your mouth to speak, but everything you say is met with confused looks. You can tell the doctors cannot understand anything you are saying. After multiple attempts, the doctors take your loved-one away into another room, knowing that they have not comprehended anything you were trying to tell them and are unsure what is wrong with your loved-one. You want to scream, because you know exactly what they need to do, but you can’t do anything about it. You gradually realize that this may be the last time you see your loved-one.

You may think it’s a scenario out of the Twilight Zone or some bad dream. However, it’s a regular occurrence for many people throughout this country.

Language barriers have long been an issue in the healthcare field. More than 46 million people in the United States do not speak English as their primary language, yet everyone needs medical care at one point or another. This language-gap can cause serious issues with miscommunication between the doctor and the patient, which can result in a lack of proper treatment and can even lead to potentially fatal medical-related errors.

Despite this serious issue, currently most hospitals provide only limited interpreting services, or more often than not, no services at all. In those circumstances, doctors must rely solely on the patient’s family members, friends or non-fluent bilingual staff members to help communicate with the patient or the patient’s family. These “ad hoc” interpreters are less likely to tell patients about medication side effects and more likely to misinterpret or omit questions asked by health care providers. This is not their fault, of course, as most individuals are not familiar with what information is pertinent, or even how to translate certain medical-related jargon. Despite their best efforts at being thorough, they may be unconsciously leaving out important details.

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