Accurate Medical Translation Not Just A Convenience, But A Critical Need for Area Hospitals

A trip to the emergency room is stressful enough. If you don’t speak English well, it can be even worse – and have an impact on the quality of care you receive. But most area hospitals offer a number of options to lower the language barrier.

The registration areas at F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua have posters that help people who speak limited English to point to the language they speak.

According to a 2012 story in The Washington Post, all hospitals that received government funds are required to have procedures to help those who don’t speak English well. But the system is fraught with difficulties. Not all translators are alike, and some make critical errors. The story cites a study by the Annals of Emergency Medicine, published in March 2012, that examined 57 cases at two hospitals in Massachusetts involving Spanish-speakers who spoke limited English.
Reviewing audiotapes of the visits, researchers found over 1,800 translation errors, including word omissions, and additions and substitutions of information, including 18 mistakes with potential clinical consequences, the Post reported.

The newspaper noted that professionally-trained interpreters with over 100 hours of training made significantly fewer mistakes than translators with less experience.
Along with many other hospitals, F.F. Thompson contracts with Language Line Services, a 24-hour call center-based company that, according to its Web site, provides translators in over 240 languages.

These associates are trained for medical translations, according to the company site.
Thompson offers on-site interpreters, but family and friends can interpret, if the patient gives permission.
Rochester General Hospital offers on-site Spanish language interpreters on weekdays, and also provides phone-based translation support at all hours. Video conferencing with this support is also available, according to the hospital’s website.

The Post story notes that in some states these services are reimbursable to hospitals through Medicaid, but they always must be provided to patients for free.
The need for an accurate understanding is demonstrated by the example of a Russian-speaking patient who arrived in the emergency room of one upstate New York hospital saying a word that sounded like “angina.” After the staff ran thousands of dollars of tests, thinking it might’ve been a heart attack, it was determined he had only apparently had a sore throat.

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