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A Satisfying Emergency Room Experience
June 17, 2010 - By: - In: Interpretation - Comments Off on A Satisfying Emergency Room Experience

That the limited English proficient (LEP) may have a harder time in the emergency room is no surprise, since sometimes it seems that LEP is just an abbreviation for “leper” when it comes to communication. And it’s no secret that professional interpreter services in the emergency room make for happier patients and providers.

But a team of researchers at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. decided to take a closer look to figure out how different methods of interpretation delivery stacked up satisfaction-wise.

They put professionally trained medical interpreters on the floor of two New Jersey emergency rooms to provide on-site Spanish-English interpretation. This was the treatment group. The control group got the standard operating procedure for these hospitals, which included the usual mix: telephone interpreters, ad hoc interpreters, and no interpreter at all.  And guess what? Everyone preferred having the face-to-face interpreter.  96% of patients were very satisfied with their ability to communicate, versus 32% who used Language Line or an ad hoc interpreter, and 12% who were satisfied without an interpreter.

And that’s got me hopping mad―so mad that, if I could figure out how to post my webcam video, I could show you the steam coming out of my ears right now.

Throwing our professional telephone interpreters into the same pool as the bilingual riffraff wandering the halls of the nation’s emergency rooms. It’s an outrage! I am besmirched.

Now, I should point out that these are not my telephone interpreters, but it still rankles. Not even those bums from Language Line fall into the same category as the amateurs who are always getting roped into translating simply because they appear to speak two languages.

This study is a lost opportunity.  They stacked the deck by bringing in these groups of highly trained linguists to hang out and facilitate. It would be very interesting to do the same study using a professionally implemented telephone interpretation system, keeping telephone interpretation an independent treatment category, and measuring not only the benefits (on-site is always going to be a more satisfying experience for participants), but also the costs.

“Future reports from this study will examine the value of providing language services by looking at the cost-effectiveness of professional interpreter services in ED [Emergency Department] visits.”

I hope there is sufficient data to allow a telephone interpreter breakout from what appears to be a not-so-large data set.  This same organization also published an interesting report last year on “Improving Access to Language Services in Health Care: A Look at National and State Efforts.”

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