Imagine going to the doctor only to find they cannot explain your condition. Imagine being given healthcare literature only to find you cannot understand it. Imagine visiting a family member in hospital only to find you cannot understand what the consultants are saying to you.
For many people, this doesn’t happen. But as communities across the world become more diverse, language barriers between patients and healthcare staff are becoming more common.
It is a significant problem. In the US, for example, as many as 21 million people have limited English proficiency, according to the country’s 2000 census, presenting a huge challenge for healthcare providers and pharmaceutical firms.
This language gap means patients struggle to access and benefit from services – they cannot understand what healthcare professionals are saying to them, struggle to read guidance leaflets and do not comply with drug regimes.
According to this report, a “growing body” of research shows that patients with no or limited English are at greater risk of medical error or misdiagnosis if they are not provided with an interpreter.
Providing patients with clear, accurate information is one of the most prominent elements of healthcare policy today. Not only does it provide patients with reassurance – it plays an important role in making them better.
Translation becoming part of healthcare policy
In America, government guidance states: “The use of qualified translators is crucial to ensuring the accuracy of translated written materials.”
Many hospitals and healthcare facilities are starting implementing to ensure they offer their patients the best possible service.
Take University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) as a good example. The Iowa Gazette recently reported that in 2013 the UIHC received more than 13,500 requests for Spanish interpretation services, an increase of more than 3,000 from 2010.
The need for services in other non-English languages has also nearly doubled in the past three years, climbing from 1,800 requests to 3,000.
As translation and interpretation services become an integral part of healthcare strategies, UHIC is ramping up its investment.
The institution employs three full-time interpreters, all fluent in Spanish and English. There is also a bank of part-time stuff who, collectively, communicate in about 30 languages, including Vietnamese, Arabic and Somali.
UIHC departments also translate documents for patients into their preferred language.
‘It’s good to have reassurance’
Ernest Nino-Murcia, vice president of the Iowa Interpreters and Translators Association, told the Gazette that having professionally trained interpreters avoids family members leaving out sensitive information or misinterpreting what is being said.
Elia Zarate, who had been in UHIC with her four-month-old son, Omar, who needed heart surgery, explained how the services offered by the hospital gave her peace of mind.
“What’s important for me is the fact I feel good and more confident knowing everything is explained to me and I understand,” Zarate said.
“It’s good to have that reassurance.”
Linda Joyce, testing director at the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, is pushing for the development of national certificates to formally recognize translators and interpreters.
“It’s an art, and when you can do that properly and proficiently it’s a wonderful thing,” Joyce said.
Patients “can have an encounter almost as seamless as if you were (speaking with) your own doctor.”
As a result of the trends, we expect the demand for qualified translators to increase.