The current COVID-19 pandemic situation has brought forth various problems in our language support systems for healthcare. Unfortunately, language support is not given enough importance when preparing for such worldwide health emergencies. Health care providers are increasingly becoming aware of the language barrier between them and their patients. Translators, interpreters, non-profit organisations are taking initiatives and coming forward to help fill this language gap.
When we say ‘health care providers’, the first things that probably come to mind are hospitals, doctors, and nurses. However, this term includes many other vocations aimed at providing medical services. Here are the various health care providers that need language assistance to give the best accessible care to patients.
These are large medical care facilities that provide different kinds of specialised care, right from emergency assistance to surgeries. Depending on the patient’s health concern, he/she typically comes in contact with the following employees at a hospital:
A hospital treats and cares for hundreds of patients at a time. Hence, one patient comes in contact with various health professionals and receives information from them. These form multiple touchpoints in the patient’s journey health care journey. If there is any error or miscommunication at any touchpoint, it could lead to some disastrous consequences.
Say, if the nurse isn’t able to clearly instruct the patients about his/her medicine dosage, the patient won’t recover well. Interpretation is vital for hospitals as the patients are required to make some crucial decisions that can potentially have a large impact on their health in the future. During signing consent forms, if the patient doesn’t accurately understand the information provided by his/her doctor, it could have grave consequences like death and subsequent lawsuits.
A Spanish-speaking Mexican recently lost his cousin to COVID-19 in New York. He later revealed in an interview that New York hospitals rarely have interpreters, making it hard for indigenous people like him to communicate with health professionals.
Nursing homes care for people whose medical needs are acute enough for hospitalisation, but they are severe enough for long-term medical care, which cannot be provided at home. Nursing homes have professional health care providers like nurses who keep a check on the patients’ progress, assist them in accomplishing daily tasks, and ensure they get proper medication and other health support.
These health professionals are frequently in contact with the patients and their family members. They are the point of contact for family members who wish to visit the patient and keep themselves updated on his/her condition. Since nurses are in close long-term contact with the patient, it helps having an unbiased person, such as a professional interpreter, communicate when the patient and his/her family members speak a different language.
Interpreters can answer their questions and relieve their anxiety. They possess the ability to put the information in their cultural context and convey it in the best possible manner – which is in their interest. Moreover, government health departments demand nursing homes to provide information in the patient’s native language. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) insists on such caring homes providing equal and effective treatment to everyone with the help of professional interpreters.
Rehabilitation centres help people in the long-term recovery of physical injuries (say, orthopaedic and physiotherapy centres) or addiction and substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, etc.). These centres also help people with occupational therapy, speech therapy, and more. These centres aim to help patients regain their abilities – physical, mental, cognitive – to function independently and conduct their daily tasks efficiently.
Rehabilitation centres have special health professionals like vocational therapists, orthopaedics, physiotherapists, nurses, etc., to help the patients make progress. For patients who don’t speak the same language as these health professionals, it becomes challenging to form a connection with them. An interpreter, here, acts as a binding force – creating an environment of trust between the patient and his/her doctor. The trust helps the patient in honestly sharing accurate information about their medical history, previous medical records, past health issues, and more.
Pharmacists play an essential role in a patient’s recovery as they possess in-depth knowledge about medicines and drugs. They are aware of the effects, side effects, and required dosage of medication. In some cases, the doctors seek advice from pharmacists to determine the best combination of medicines for a patient’s condition that’ll have minimum or no side effects. If there is a language barrier between the doctor and the pharmacist, an interpreter will be able to help them communicate efficiently.
When it comes to medication, the patient must understand every instruction given by his/her pharmacist. If the patient ends up consuming the medicine in the wrong dosage or wrong intervals of time (due to a language barrier), it can aggravate his/her health issue or lead to another. An interpreter ensures that the patient clearly understands the instructions. He/She can also help the patient ask questions (that they might have been hesitant to ask due to the language barriers) and get answers from the pharmacist.
Pathology labs, imaging and radiology centres
Usually, hospitals have their own pathology labs and imaging centres. When it comes to outpatient care, the patient will have to visit these centres for diagnostic testing. If a patient is receiving physiotherapy at a rehabilitation centre, he/she will be required to get his/her X-rays from an imaging centre. Referring patients to such centres help outpatient facility providers to reduce costs and schedule imaging for the patients easily.
The people working at these centres are technicians who help patients get their CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, X-rays, etc. They employ some safety measures before and after the imaging. For instance, no metal objects are allowed in the MRI machines. If the patient doesn’t understand these measures due to a language barrier, it can lead to severe consequences. Plus, such a patient will need the help of an interpreter in understanding the results of diagnostic tests.
Health insurance providers
Health insurance providers help patients with the financial support they need during a health emergency. However, the complexity of the legal and financial language employed to describe health insurance plans and policies might discourage people from taking advantage of them. This is especially true for those who don’t speak the language in which all the information is being provided.
The complexity of the language of these policies makes it challenging for people to understand them, even in their native language. Consequently, the patients who aren’t comfortable with the language will not access to quality health care.
On the other hand, if a patient signs up for a health insurance policy without understanding its terms and conditions, he/she will lose trust in the insurer. A recent study by J.D. Power & Associates, shows that clear communication is the key to customer satisfaction. When insurance companies ensure that the customers understand their coverage entirely, they are more likely to gain their trust.
Medical interpretation services are not just an accessory to quality health care but a necessity. If you are a health care provider looking for more information, here’s everything you need to know about medical interpretation.