Now You’re Speaking My Language: Interpreters in ER Limit Medical Errors
Open communication is essential in a doctor-patient relationship. Doctors need to be well-informed in order to make prudent treatment decisions, and patients have to be kept in the loop to remain active and effective participants in their own care.
But what happens when there’s a language barrier in a medical situation? According to a new study, effectively bridging a language gap between doctors and patients can significantly reduce emergency room errors.
For Non-English Speaking Patients, Medical Errors Twice As Likely Without Professional Translation
The new report, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, followed conduct at two pediatric emergency rooms. Of the 57 primarily Spanish-speaking families seen in the emergency rooms during the period studied, 20 had help from a professional interpreter; ten had no translation help, and 27 had a non-professional or “ad hoc” interpreter (for instance, a family member or a bilingual member of the hospital staff).
Among those with access to a professional interpreter, 12 percent of translation errors – like adding or omitting certain words or phrases – could have had what the study’s authors referred to as “clinical consequences” (Clinical consequences would include any mistake that could impact the patient’s health, for instance, administering the wrong medication or the wrong dose of the correct medication).
Translation errors with the potential to cause real-world harm were almost twice as likely when there was no interpreter or when using an ad hoc interpreter: 20 to 22 percent of translation errors in this context posed a risk of clinical consequences.
Serious errors were least common when professional interpreters were well prepared for the task at hand, with 100 or more hours of training. Among interpreters that had been trained for 100 plus hours, just two percent of translation slips had the potential to cause harm; however, very few training programs for medical interpreters provide at least 100 hours of instruction.
Preventing and Addressing Medical Malpractice Caused By Bad Translation
There are many barriers to the use of interpreters in emergency rooms, like cost and poor recognition of the need for interpretation services. Even so, by law all U.S. hospitals that receive federal funds have to offer some type of translation help for their patients with limited English proficiency. And, although hiring a professional interpreter or engaging a telephone- or video-based translation service can be expensive, it may actually result in savings in the long run by preventing costly medical errors.
Hospitals have a responsibility to provide safe, effective treatment; part of this is ensuring their emergency room patients can communicate effectively with care providers. When this responsibility is ignored and you are harmed as a result, you have a right to compensation. If you or someone you know has fallen victim to poor hospital translation, recover the monetary damages you deserve and encourage hospitals to adopt better policies by getting in touch with a medical malpractice attorney today.