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Lack of Hospital Interpreters Increases Risk of Medical Errors

Hospital translators can help prevent medical errors. Yet many hospitals are not properly staffed.

U.S. hospitals that receive federal funds are required to offer some type of translation assistance for those patients. Those services can include a professional interpreter who works for the hospital or telephone or video-based translation services. Yet, according to a new study, nearly one-third of hospitals fail to provide interpreters to patients who speak limited English.

As Reuters reports, the 24 million U.S. residents with limited English proficiency frequently experience barriers to health care because of their inability to communicate effectively with providers. Patients may not be able to clearly convey their symptoms or may not have their questions answered adequately. “People have a right to hear a cancer diagnosis in a language they understand, not through hand gestures,” lead author Melody Schiaffino stated.

The study analyzed census data from 2009 to 2013 along with the availability of translation services at 4,514 U.S. hospitals. The results revealed that many facilities failed to provide services. Private, not-for-profit hospitals were significantly more likely to provide professional translators than private for-profit and government facilities.

The results are concerning. Research confirms that having professional translators on staff can be extremely valuable. Studies have shown that patients with limited English proficiency are more likely to remain hospitalized longer, to suffer from misdiagnosis, and fall victim to medical errors. A 2013 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine specifically found that mistakes with the potential to result in “clinical consequences,” such as administering the wrong medication dose, were about twice as likely if there were no interpreters or if the translator was an amateur.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.