You might think that the above statement is fairly obvious and yet, many practices are quick to cut corners when it comes to their foreign patients. The language of medicine may be universal – after all, human anatomy is the same whether you’re French, Chinese, Colombian or African American – but the languages we speak are widely different.
This means that treating a foreign patient without the help of a qualified medical interpreter is like playing a guessing game. A potentially dangerous one. If you don’t understand what your patient is saying to you, how can you be certain of their problem? How will you know of any pre-existing conditions or allergies? How can you send them home and be sure they’ll follow their plan of care? Here are at least 5 reasons why you need a professional for your medical interpretations.
1. Inaccurate Medical Interpreting Risks Patients’ Lives
Mistakes in translation and interpretation are never good. No one likes to see an error in a document, subtitles, or on a menu. But more often than not, small errors like this are actually harmless.
Mistranslations can even be amusing, and there are plenty of examples out there of companies making language errors at their own expense (and our entertainment). Like Braniff International telling their Spanish speaking customers to "Fly Naked," when they really wanted to get across the fact that their airline had leather seats.
But while these mistakes can be costly, none of them are as critical as they are in the medical industry. When interpreting on the ward for a foreign language patient, a mistranslation could mean the difference of life or death for your patient.
Just think about the Willie Ramirez case of 1980. The interpreter on the case mistranslated one little word which led to Ramirez becoming quadriplegic for the rest of his life. This is not a situation you want to happen to you or your practice.
2. Professional Interpreting Will Help You Avoid a Lawsuit
Laws are somewhat open to interpretation about whether or not a medical interpreter is necessary, and they vary from State to State. On a federal level, however, all foreign language speaking patients now have the right to request a qualified medical interpreter.
You may think that your small clinic or practice is exempt from such a law, and you may not be required to keep multilingual medical interpreters on the fulltime payroll. But if you fail to provide the necessary language assistance to your foreign patients when they need it – you could be found breaking the law.And that could lead to a lawsuit.
If patients don’t feel as if their needs have been met or their case adequately resolved, they can complain about your facility and have the right to sue. If your clinic is found at fault, then you could incur a penalty anywhere from a hefty fine, to years of imprisonment. You may even have your license revoked. Is any of that worth saving a few dollars on patient care?
3. The Patient’s Relatives Aren’t Medically Trained
With a large and steadily growing Hispanic population in the US, the number of Spanish speakers is also on the up. But just because your patient has relatives, or you have a hospital janitor or receptionist who understands Spanish, doesn’t make them qualified to be a medical interpreter.
They’re not prepared in terminology management and don’t know what pertinent information to ask. More importantly, they aren’t emotionally prepared to hand over a diagnosis to an ailing relative. Nor should they have to. You can’t make your patient’s son, daughter or husband hand over a potentially terminal diagnosis, or expect them to correctly explain the plan of care.
4. Your Patient Could Misunderstand Their Diagnosis
Just imagine there’s no one around when you’re treating your patient. Maybe they say there’s no need for an interpreter, and indicate that they understand what you’re saying. But what happens if the reverse is true? If you’ve heard about the case of Spanish-speaking California resident Maria Guevera, who lost her baby due to a misunderstanding, then you’ll make sure you seek professional assistance.
It’s true that some emotions and gestures are universal, but getting dosage and treatment plans right, deciding on the correct medical course of action to take and ensuring that your patient understands what’s happening is vital. For the good of your patient and the good of your clinic.
5. Professional Medical Interpreting Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Professional medical interpreting may not be as cheap as relying on the friendly janitor, but it doesn’t have to be expensive either. We can send a medical interpreter to your clinic in cases where you know you in advance that you’ll be treating a foreign language speaking patient. Or we can connect you to a trained professional by phone in emergency situations. Telephone interpreting is a cheap and effective way of ensuring compliance and making sure that communication between doctor and patient is effective.
So, before you put your practice, patients, or reputation at risk, make sure you hire a professional for your medical interpretations.