A Call for Professional Translators and Interpreters for Non-Native US Speakers


Video by the Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators, Houston, TX

How many times have you been to the emergency room or doctor’s office where people who speak limited English are having difficulty communicating what’s wrong? Have you seen hospitals that do it well?

Last week, Billie Noakes, who writes billiegram blog, guest blogged here, telling the story of a friend of her’s in Florida who saw a deaf interpreter once during a five-day stay. “Lily” was discharged with a bad case of shingles, but people taking care of her did not have a clue, and none of the tests that she went through picked it up. I do not know how widespread the lack of professional translators is in healthcare.

Studies have repeatedly shown that families do not translate accurately, and that professionals, who know medical terms, as well as translation, are needed for quality care and to insure that no medical errors happen. Medical errors due to lack of translators are not easy to tabulate, but they can be avoided by improving access to translators.

Lisa Carter, a professional translator who blogs at Intralingo, sent me this video, and I have been in touch with the translators in Texas who put it together. Billie and Lisa are both participating in WordCount Blogathon 2011.

I interviewed Jorge Ungo, president, Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators, Houston, TX, a nonprofit 501 c6 organization. He authorized using it on PatientPOV. Jorge works for a language translation company in Texas.

I hope that this inspires conversation here, on twitter, on Facebook, and with your health care providers. Most importantly, I hope that systems are put in place so that all patients can be understood who go for healthcare.

This entry was posted in Healthcare reform, interpreters, Listening to patients, medical errors, translation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Call for Professional Translators and Interpreters for Non-Native US Speakers

  1. Lisa Carter says:

    Really glad that you are bringing this shortage to light here on Patient POV, Laura! There is a serious lack of interpreters for sure, often because their skill and usefulness are underestimated. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the medical and legal fields where such a shortage has serious consequences. Here’s hoping that more awareness will eventually lead to more training, acceptance and decent pay for these hard-working, essential components in the healthcare system.

  2. Thank you for helping raise awareness regarding communication barriers in health care. There have been major step towards the development of the health care interpreting profession, including the development of a National Code of Ethics, National Standards of Practice, and National Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (http://www.ncihc.org).

    The video was an effort to raise awareness among healthcare professionals and the organizations they work for as to the critical nature and the challenges faced by this underserved population. (Just one point of clarification – the video was actually produced by Fluency, Inc. who allowed TAHIT to disseminate the video via our website.)

    These challenges and the outcomes they can produce have received considerable attention over the past couple of decades, including the passage of Executive Order 13166 & the National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care release by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, the release of the Joint Commission’s Patient Centered Communication Standards, and most recently, the development of two national certification efforts.

    But despite clear evidence that language and cultural barriers not only affect patients but also the U.S. Healthcare System, every day we hear about situations in which patients are denied equal access to the same services as those who speak English as their primary language.

    Thank you again for contributing to the national dialogue and sharing the video with your readers!

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