medical skull in doctor's office
By: Nicole On: September 09, 2016 In: Interpreting, Medical Comments: 0

With 25 million Americans who have limited English proficiency, accurate and on-site interpreting are essential – especially in health care, when a life is on the line.

Yet many hospitals do not have their own translators or interpreters. How can you make yourself heard in health care when you only speak Spanish?

Limited Languages in US Hospitals

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, only 23% of teaching hospitals in the US provide any language training or teach interpretation to their clinicians – and those who do make it optional. This creates severe complications for Spanish speakers seeking health care.

This lack of professional – or even proficient – interpreters means that diseases and symptoms can be misunderstood, misdiagnosed or even missed altogether. What’s more, hospitals’ data collection for non-English speaking patients can be inaccurate or incomplete.

Many cases of health care for Spanish speakers have involved over-prescription of medication as doctors try to cover all the bases, unsure of the specific symptoms. This is both more costly for the patient and less effective – and might lead to medication abuse. Experienced medical interpreters, like those at ALS, help to prevent all these critical issues.

And this is no small problem: One study asserts that in 46% of emergency department cases, no interpreter is used with patients who speak limited English.

Health Care for Spanish Speakers

The need for health care translation for Spanish speakers is particularly dire – Hispanics make up 17% of the US population, and many patients coming to US hospitals cannot communicate with their clinicians.

In one case, an 18-year-old seeking health care found no Spanish-speaking staff at the hospital. His family explained he was “intoxicado,” which doctors took to mean “intoxicated.”

After treating the patient for alcohol overdose for 36 hours, the clinicians learned “intoxicado” means “nauseated” in Spanish. This misinterpretation greatly affected the health care treatment and recovery of the patient, and a correct diagnosis only required the aid of a Spanish-speaking interpreter on hand.

Securing Spanish Support

Civil rights organizations are recognizing the need for health care Spanish interpreters, and Spanish speakers are rallying to get more support.

The National Council of La Raza is trying to increase the availability of Spanish translation through changes in health care policy. La Raza, an organization of advocates for Latinos, is pushing for Congressional legislation that would allow insurance coverage to include translation and interpreting services.

But according to new Census Bureau data, even after the launching of Obamacare one in four Hispanics living in the US do not have health insurance – the highest proportion of any racial or ethnic group.

Campaigning for the inclusion of interpreting services in health care for Spanish speakers reveals the significance of interpreting in the medical world. The power of words can make the difference in the quality of your health care.

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