With more patients in the US uncomfortable in English, demand for translation is rising as healthcare providers search for technology fixes and cost controls.
The 21% of US residents speaking a language other than English at home and the 9% not fluent in English face language barriers that make good medical care more difficult, reports Sophie Quinton in the National Journal. They are more likely to be hospitalized for longer periods and to experience more medical trouble when they’re in the hospital, according to Glenn Flores, director of the general pediatrics division at the University of Texas Southwestern and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
“While today’s digital tools can help communicate basic information across language barriers, there’s not yet a digital substitute for a trained medical interpreter or a fully bilingual practitioner. And some experts say that translation apps and other tools can even be dangerous if they lead to incomplete communication,” Quinton writes.
Patients and doctors need to communicate accurately about symptoms, medical history, prescriptions, and procedures. “If you just have a simple tablet that asks, do you have pain or not, that’s going to give people a false sense of security,” Flores told Quinton. “You’re going to end up putting people at risk.”
However, machine translation and other automation technologies may make a great deal of sense for the day-to-day work of ensuring patient comfort and safety in the ward.
One interesting solution by Transcendent Endeavors, called Starling, is a touchscreen picture board placed by the patient’s bedside. A patient who taps the toilet icon pictured on the screen, for example, is sending a clear message to the attending nurse’s mobile device of his intentions. Pretty handy, but no substitute for a conversation.
Here’s the important part:
“Calling in a trained medical interpreter is still the safest way to bridge a language gap between patient and health care provider, In a 2003 study, Flores found that ad-hoc interpreters—like nurses, social workers, or a patient’s sibling—were much more likely to commit serious errors than professional interpreters. Errors included missteps like forgetting to ask about drug allergies and giving incomplete information about medication dosages.
“The best interpreters can also relay cultural traditions that can help improve diagnosis or treatment plans. For example, Flores says, in some Mexican-American communities, local healers sell powders to aid indigestion that can contain toxic concentrations of lead. On the other hand, doctors might want to include harmless traditional treatments for indigestion, like rubbing the stomach with warm oil, in their treatment plans in order to set patients at ease.
“For now, phone-based interpretation services are the best technological substitute for having a trained interpreter in the room.”
I’ve got nothing to add, except to suggest that you call us now at 1-800-872-6752 to open a medical interpreting account and start communicating now.
For more, read Speaking the Language of Health Care by Sophie Quinton, a great summary for people new to healthcare translation.