Scarce Access to Interpreters, Leads to High Risks in Healthcare

Can you imagine having to be the “informal interpreter” between a healthcare provider and your loved ones? Imagine being in a situation where you had to be the one to deliver the news of an awful diagnosis to a loved one, one that could change their life. Unfortunately, this still occurs due to the scarce access of interpreters immigrants have when walking into a hospital or doctor’s office. 

A story that is many might be familiar with, is a perfect example of why not to use a loved one as the interpreter. Marlon Munoz still becomes emotional when he remembers having to tell his wife, Aibi Perez, that she had breast cancer, because no other interpreter was available to share the news. Although Aibi is now cancer free, the family will still never be the same after what they went through. Census data suggests that as many as 1 in 10 working adults in the U.S. has limited English-language proficiency. However, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and subsequent orders and laws states that hospitals and other medical facilities are required to have “meaningful access” to patients, so they can make informed decisions about their health while understanding what is being told to them. Which means, healthcare providers must have access to qualified medical interpreters when limited english proficient patients are present. 

Research has shown that by requiring interpreters in healthcare settings this can improve clinical outcomes and reduce persistent disparities in health care overall. And yet, why does this problem still occur? Thousands of hospital and other medical facilities continue to fall short when it comes to relaying important information to patients who aren’t english proficient. 

Unfortunately, informal interpreters unfold in clinics across the country every day, that can come with potentially harrowing consequences if something should be lost in translation. Research over the past 15 years has established that language errors and misunderstandings are common when professional interpreters aren’t used. However, no one really knows how widespread the problem is and that immigrant families all over the country are being put into horrible situations every day. 

A 2016 survey of 4,586 hospitals by the American Hospital Association, showed that only 56 percent of hospitals offered some sort of linguistic and translation services, a very slight improvement over the 54 percent recorded five years earlier. While another survey suggests that 97 percent of physicians see at least some patients who have difficulty understanding English.

The truth is, if you cannot communicate with a patient you cannot give them the full care they deserve. 

The Solution

It has been established that language errors and misunderstandings are common when professional interpreters aren’t used. So what is the solution? 

Technology. Which means, having access to video remote interpreters who are available 24/7 within minutes. VRIs also come at a lower cost that an in-person interpreter or over the phone. VRIs are helping to address language barriers, and doctors and patients are noticing change. If VRIs had always been available, many problems and risks could be avoided. 

Take Marlon Munoz and Aibi Perez for example. There story is real, and is very similar to what others are going through around the country. There is no doubt in their minds that their health care has been compromised due to language barriers. Some services simply weren’t available in Spanish when Perez was being treated for her breast cancer. She had no way of truly understanding how her chemo worked or what the pain would be like because her husband who spoke limited english was her interpreter.

If you need a video remote interpreter, consider checking out Boostlingo. We offer a wide variety of interpreting services to healthcare providers all around the country.