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Could Interpreters Help Prevent Medical Errors?

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.

Source: Reuters