Proper implementation of medical interpreting is a great way to improve a hospital’s discharge process. In fact, studies have shown that the use of a medical interpreter can cut down the time the process takes by half.
In 2013, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles tracked the time difference between discharging English-speaking and Spanish-speaking patients. On average, discharging Spanish-speaking families took 41 minutes longer.
By having interpreters at the doctors’ disposal at peak discharge hours, this time difference was chopped in half. And since only about 25 percent of the hospital’s thousand monthly discharges are in English, this saves an incredible amount of time and money — at 20 minutes each for 700 discharges, it saves more than 230 hours, or nine days.
Knowing this, it’s no wonder that medical interpreting can improve doctor-patient relations while helping hospitals run more efficiently. The key is having enough interpreters available to meet the needs of patients (and their families!) who speak another language.
Use Time and Money Wisely
Some hospitals do not employ medical interpreters at all, leaving the task of interpreting to staff members who happen to be bilingual. But these employees were trained to be doctors and nurses, not professional medical interpreters.
Shortcuts like these are dangerous, especially in the medical field. Not only do they increase the likelihood of potentially life-threatening language errors, but it also means that the hospital is pulling medical professionals away from their jobs. When a nurse or doctor is busy interpreting for a patient, that’s time that other patients are not getting the treatment they need.
Instead of spending money and time hiring bilingual doctors and nurses who are also expected to cover interpretation duties, hospitals should take advantage of dedicated medical interpreters. That way, hospital staff can focus on medicine, while language professionals are responsible for the interactions between doctors and patients.
And of course, cutting down on the time it takes to discharge patients through the help of medical interpreting saves hospitals money while helping those who need medical care. When the process is simpler and shorter, hospital beds become available sooner, allowing more patients to be treated.
Reassure Patients and Their Families
Medical interpreters are invaluable at hospitals. When medical interpreting isn’t a priority for a hospital, patients who do not speak the language might feel hesitant to ask questions when they don’t understand something. Even when a medical interpreter is supplied, if it seems like a hassle to meet with him or her — such as when patients have to endure a lengthy wait to see the interpreter — they might decide it’s not worth their time to get clarification.
The result is lower patient satisfaction. If they feel unwelcome due to the poor attention to their medical interpreting needs, they are unlikely to want to return to the same hospital the next time they need care.
What’s worse is that those without the advantage of fast medical interpreting help are more likely than others to need treatment again. This is because they might not understand the discharge instructions, which may include the need for further testing, medication, and follow-up appointments.
These problems can be avoided when hospital staff ensures that there are enough medical interpreters available to their patients. They should be readily available to patients during their stay, especially during the hospital discharge process. Clearly, the benefits for both patients and hospitals are worth making an effort to meet medical interpreting needs.