4 Reasons to Hire Qualified Medical Interpreters

Hospitals are hectic places, and getting patients and families the information they need is hard enough in English, let alone another language that your staff doesn’t speak. Crucial information can be missed when interpreters aren’t certified, and some hospitals don’t have qualified medical interpreters at all—creating risk for both the patients and the hospital. With the increasing multiculturalism of the United States (19% of US residents speak a foreign language at home), hospitals simply can’t afford to cut corners on hiring medical interpreters anymore. Wondering how an interpreter’s qualifications matter to your hospital or clinic? Here are four reasons to hire a pro to give patients the information they need.

1. It Helps Ensure High Quality and Efficient Care

Getting treatment can be a lengthy process, between diagnosis, consent, analysis, and other factors. Interpretation errors don’t just slow down the process of giving patients the care they need, they also cut down on the quality of care patients receive. Clear communication between staff and patients is essential for getting necessary approval and preventing anxiety and confusion for patients.

2. Qualified Interpreters Know the Terminology

Many hospitals resort to mobilizing bilingual staff members and family members or friends of patients for help with interpreting. Unfortunately, this approach can also lead to misunderstandings. These well-meaning loved ones might be used to communicating with the patient, but they may not have the language comprehension to translate complex medical terms and concepts for the patient or the caregiver. This can result in confusion at best, medical errors at worst.

3. It Reduces Risk for Legal Trouble

As anyone who works in a hospital knows, any little misstep can trigger legal trouble. Emotions run high and patients’ lives are in the balance, leading to malpractice suits and other legal action against the hospital. Why increase the risk by not hiring a qualified medical interpreter? Yes, hiring interpreters is an added expense, but if they can prevent even one legal battle, they could pay for themselves very quickly. Requirements vary for healthcare organizations, so it’s important to become familiar with what regulations are in place for interpreter services at your hospital. There are also new legal requirements to consider, such as section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

4. It Can Save Lives

The reason there are legal requirements for interpreters is simple: they can save lives. Interpreting errors can lead to medication mix-ups, misunderstandings of patient symptoms (which can lead to misdiagnosis), and unnecessary readmission. In order to protect all the patients who come to your hospital or clinic, it is crucial to offer the highest quality interpreting services you possibly can. It’s tragic when a patient suffers irreversible damage, or even death, due to something as preventable as an interpreting error. Your patients deserve to understand what is going on, and having a qualified interpreter close at hand is the only way to ensure they receive all the information they need.

Mistakes Still Happen

Of course, no system is perfect, and even professional interpreters make mistakes from time to time. But choosing a qualified and trained medical interpreter can reduce this risk significantly. A 2012 study found that of thousands of interpreting mistakes found at two pediatric emergency wards in Massachusetts, 18% of the errors could have caused consequences for the patient’s care. The study noted that these errors were less frequent among professional interpreters. For this reason alone, establishing a medical interpreter program at your hospital or clinic is essential for everyone involved in patient care.

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