How important are medical interpreters? Imagine having a medical emergency and not being able to talk to or understand the doctor. What would you do?
The growing immigrant and refugee population means that hundreds of languages and dialects are being spoken in the US every day.
Many refugees and displaced persons know very little English, and consequently avoid situations where they might have to interact with native English speakers, such as the doctor’s office. This means that medical help might not be sought until the last possible moment, when the consequences of a doctor and a patient not understanding each other could be very dire.
The demand for professional medical interpreting services is greater than ever. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, between 15,000 and 17,000 people work as medical interpreters in the US.
This number is expected to increase as hospitals and clinics add more medical interpreters to their staff to ensure patients receive complete comprehensive care.
Medical Interpreters Required By Law
A study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the US Department of Labor, predicts that the number of employed translators and interpreters will increase by 22 percent in the next decade.
Health care organizations are realizing the value of having a competent medical interpreting staff, as they do not want to be liable for medical details lost in translation that could lead to poor medical care and potential lawsuits.
Medical interpreters aren’t just helpful to have on a hospital staff — they’re required to be there. The law mandates that any health care organization that receives federal funding must provide medical interpreters to patients with limited or no knowledge of English at no additional cost to them.
California has made great strides in improving linguistic understanding in the medical field. In early 2009, California passed a law requiring all insurance or health care plans to provide interpreters for patients with limited English proficiency at no additional cost. Kaiser Permanente, the California-based managed care organization, asks patients their language preference before administering care.
Kaiser also developed a physician assessment program which tests doctors’ proficiency in other languages, determining whether they can assist patients speaking that language without a medical interpreter.
Medical Interpreting Field Continues to Grow
While the medical interpreting field has expanded, there are still a few hurdles to overcome.
There is no certification standard for medical interpreting; it is up to the employer to decide if the interpreter is qualified. Though employers use discretion during the hiring process and often put qualified interpreters through a training program to make sure that everyone is up to par, many are lobbying for a national or statewide certification program.
Doctors also hesitate to hire medical interpreters because they end up paying for interpreting services. The fee for patients’ office visits is often not enough to reimburse the doctor for the interpreter’s payment.
Finally, it is hard to convince some patients that they should not just use a trusted friend or family member as their interpreter. Unlike family members, professional medical interpreters would be able to understand and explain confusing medical terminology. Professional medical interpreters would also stay neutral and unbiased while ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation.
Studies show that the quality of health care administered to people with a low English proficiency is not nearly as good as the treatment of people who speak English. Hopefully the increasing number of medical interpreters will change that statistic.
If you need professional medical interpretation services, contact Legal Language to learn how our experienced linguists can assist you.