California Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan has expressed his concerns to the growing need for health interpreters in the state of California and the whole of the United States. With one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country and some of the strongest interpreting-related laws aimed at protecting its citizens, California still sees cases of misdiagnosis and preventable accidents due to the lack of medical interpreters mediating between non-English speaking patients and their English speaking doctors.
The problem will only be further exacerbated by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), aiming at improving health insurance, lowering the uninsured rate, and reducing the costs of health care for the population of the United States. The Affordable Care Act will make millions of non-English speakers eligible for health insurance, all of which will need medical interpreting services to survive within the system.
In California, around 40 percent of the total number of citizens speak a language other than English at home, which brings Dr. Pan to personally highlight the need for a system of medical interpreters at a state level. As a response to the problem, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, from Los Angeles, has drafted bill AB 1263, passed by the Assembly in May, which would require California’s Department of Health Care Services to seek federal funds to put together a system of certified interpreters. If it passes the Senate, California would be spending $200,000 and the federal government would be contributing other $270 million to fund the state-wide interpreting service.
Bad Examples – The Importance of Medical Interpreting
There are hundreds of cases a year in which a friend or family member, generally a child, has to serve as an interpreter when professional ones are not available. However, experts agree that this is generally a poor decision which can lead to terrible consequences of misunderstanding. According to Dr. Flores, of the California Endowment, one of the main problems is that children are not yet prepared to understand the seriousness behind any medical discussion.
Cases of non-English speaking patients failing to understand their doctors are varied. In 2008, for example, Maria Guevara was seen by a doctor at the Los Angeles County General hospital, who misunderstood she wanted to miscarriage the three-month-old baby she was carrying and prescribed abortion pills which Guevara mistook for prenatal care pills.
Here’s a video prepared by World Interpreting that explains why choosing a qualified professional medical interpreter is the smart choice when it concerns your health and well-being.