Equipping emergency rooms with professional interpreters may help prevent
medical errors, according to new research. The study, conducted at two pediatric ERs
and published in the
Annals of Emergency Medicine, 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.
“The findings document that interpreter errors of potential clinical
consequence are significantly more likely to occur when there is an ‘ad
hoc’ or no interpreter, compared with a professional interpreter,”
said lead researcher Glenn Flores, of the University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center in Dallas.
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. This study, based on 57 families seen
in either of two Massachusetts pediatric emergency rooms, was the first
to show how valuable professional translators can be, particularly in the ER.
Below are several additional findings:
- When trained interpreters were available, 12 percent of translation slips
could have potential health risks to a child.
- When the interpreter was somebody such as a family member or a bilingual
member of the hospital staff, 20 to 22 percent of their translation errors
were potentially risky.
- Errors were least common when the interpreters had 100 hours of training
or more. In these cases, only two percent of their translation slips had
the potential for doing the child harm.
“These findings suggest that requiring at least 100 hours of training
for interpreters might have a major impact on reducing interpreter errors
and their consequences in health care, while improving quality and patient
safety,” the researchers wrote.