Saturday, October 13, 2007

Medical Translators

This week, I had a very good experience using an interpretor on the wards. My meager Spanish skills are hardly even sufficient to ask mom how the patient feels and if there is anything I can do to help. By using one of my hospital's legion of interpretors, I was able to get all of the pertinent information about her child.

Latino parents identified language problems as the single greatest barrier to health care access for their children. A cross-sectional survey of 467 native Spanish-speaking and 63 English-speaking Latino patients at a public hospital emergency department found that an interpreter was used for only 26% of Spanish-speaking patients; professional interpreters were used for only 12% of patients.

It is bad that the hospital in the study had in-house interpretors on call, but worse is that a shortage of interpreters is a common problem in Emergency Departments in the United States. Failure to appreciate the importance of culture and language in medical emergencies can result in multiple adverse consequences, including difficulties in obtaining informed consent, miscommunication, dissatisfaction with care, lower quality of care and clinician bias.

I don't like the thought of any of these interfering with medical care. That's why I like medical interpretors.

Baker DW, Parker RM, Williams MV, Coates WC, Pitkin K. Use and effectiveness of interpreters in an emergency department. JAMA. 1996;275(10):783-788.

No comments: