Aberdeen, South Dakota – Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center and Avera St. Luke’s Hospital have had to adopt to accommodate the city’s cultural diversification by increasing the translation and interpretation services offered to their patients. In the last five years, the need for language services has increased, especially in 2011 and 2012, when there were 169 cases in which interpretation to and from the English language was needed. However, 2013 has been the year when the services have been used the most, with 280 cases in which interpretation has been offered so far.
LANGUAGE SERVICES OFFERED
Even though the service is not needed on a daily basis, the hospital accommodates patients who do not speak English as regularly as once a month in the clinic and around twice a month in the hospital. The services offered vary from phone interpretation, the most readily available and the most widely used option, live, face-to-face interpretation, and even video chat for patients who need sign language interpretation. Avera St. Luke’s Hospital offers a choice of 170 possible languages and Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center a choice of 200. In both institutions, the main languages to and from which translation and interpretation is carried out are Spanish, Karen and Somali.
WHY OFFER THESE SERVICES?
The decision to offer translation and interpretation services, for free, to any patient who needs it springs from the institutions’ belief that it is impossible to offer a good health care service without decent communication between doctors and patients. To help achieve this communication, Avera St. Luke’s Hospital has trained its employees in how to use telephone interpretation services. At Sanford Aberdeen Medical Center they have taken a different approach by supplying employees with booklets which contain the phrase “I speak x” in a variety of languages, so that hospital staff know what language the patient is speaking and are able to ask for interpretation services more accurately.
Generally, these tools are only used in emergency cases. If the appointment has been scheduled, or if a patient needs to call the hospital to require a service, they generally make use of a relative or friend who calls in for them and explains the situation. In that way, everything can be settled beforehand and the hospitals can decide on whether to use an over-the-phone interpreter or a personal interpreter. The second option is generally chosen in the case of more complex procedures or whenever the service is needed for a longer period of time. When their health is at risk, patients feel at their most vulnerable and might thank the presence of another person by their beds in case they need to communicate something at any time.