According to a study by the Annals of Emergency Medicine released in 2012, professional medical interpreters make significantly fewer mistakes than amateurs.
The peer-reviewed scientific journal found that the error rate among interpreters with less training was significantly higher than among those who were professional interpreters with more training.
With more than 25 million Americans with limited English proficiency, the study emphasizes the need for hiring professionals for medical interpreting.
Medical Interpreting Study Findings
The study involved 57 primarily Spanish-speaking patients with limited English proficiency seen in two Massachusetts pediatric emergency rooms. Twenty of the families received a professional interpreter, 27 had an amateur interpreter, and the remaining 10 did not receive interpretation help at all.
According to the study, professional interpreters made on average less than half the errors compared to interpreters with less training. Moreover, ad hoc interpreters, such as family members, friends or hospital staff, made considerably more interpretation errors. These errors can have frightening consequences, such as when an interpreter mistakes a simple dosage of medicine.
The study examined not only the error rate of different groups of interpreters, but also the potential clinical consequences of those mistakes. When ad hoc interpreters were involved, there was a higher percentage of encounters (22 percent) in which there were potential clinical consequences. When there was no interpreter available, patients fared slightly better, with only 20 percent of errors having potential clinical consequences.
The study noted that an interpreter’s training had a large impact on the number of errors overall. For example, professional interpreters with more than 100 hours of training performed more accurately than those with less training. The study highlights the importance of obtaining a paid professional interpreter, especially in a medical setting where the stakes are especially high.
Qualities of Professional Medical Interpreters
Federal law requirements state that any health care organization that receives federal funding must provide medical interpreters to patients with limited English proficiency. Since there is no standard for medical interpreting, it is up to the hospital to decide if an interpreter is qualified.
Doctors often end up footing the bill for interpreters since the government does not provide funds to pay for this service.
This makes doctors more hesitant to appoint professional interpreters, and more likely to accept ad hoc or amateur interpreters instead. However, a prudent doctor will realize that the cost of a professional medical interpreting service is insignificant compared to the costs of a malpractice lawsuit.
Usually present in the exam room with the doctor and patient, medical interpreters must be comfortable discussing personal or sensitive medical issues and must have an in-depth knowledge of medical terminology.
It is also important that the medical interpreter is neutral and unbiased. Family and friends may misinterpret communications between the doctor and patient in order to soften the blow of a difficult prognosis.
A skilled medical interpreter can make a huge difference in providing quick, accurate and effective treatment for patients with limited English proficiency. Make sure you aren’t taking chances by relying on an amateur medical interpreter. Contact Legal Language today for professional interpreters you can trust.