Posted by: sbilingual | November 7, 2012

Language barriers plague hospitals

Many hospital patients who have a limited ability to speak English and who need a translator don’t get one, which puts them at risk for poor and sometimes life-threatening medical care, an analysis in today’s New England Journal of Medicine says.

From 1990 to 2000, the number of residents with limited English proficiency grew by 7 million, to 21 million, or 8.1% of the population, according to U.S. Census figures. Yet, one study showed that no interpreter was used in 46% of emergency department cases involving such patients, says Glenn Flores, an expert on language barriers in health care who based his conclusions on his own studies and those done by other researchers.

Only 23% of teaching hospitals offer physicians training in how to work with an interpreter, he says. “Lack of interpreters translates into impaired health status, lower likelihood of being given a follow-up appointment, greater risk of hospital admissions and more drug complications,” says Flores, a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

IN OTHER WORDSDemand surges for translators at medical facilities

He cites the case of a 7-year-old girl with an ear infection whose mother was told by a poorly trained interpreter to put the oral antibiotic in her daughter’s ears. In another case, a 2-year-old who fell off her tricycle was taken from her mother by social workers because a doctor misinterpreted the Spanish words “Se pegó” to mean “I hit her” rather than “She hit herself,” Flores says.

And in a case that cost a Florida hospital a $71 million malpractice settlement, he says, an 18-year-old who said he was intoxicado, which can mean nauseated, spent 36 hours being treated for a drug overdose before doctors realized he had a brain aneurysm.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the denial or delay of medical care because of language barriers is discrimination. Any medical facility that receives Medicaid or Medicare must provide language assistance to patients with limited English proficiency.

The American Medical Association says making health care providers responsible for the cost of an interpreter is unfair. An AMA survey found that the cost of hiring an interpreter varied from $30 to $400 an hour depending on language and skill level, significantly higher than the payment for a Medicaid office visit, which in many states is from $30 to $50.

California passed legislation in 2003 requiring health care providers to make interpreters available to those who need them, says Cindy Ehnes of the state’s Department of Managed Health Care. Otherwise, she says, quality care is clearly “difficult if not impossible.”

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  1. […] Techmanageable duration so that matting and tangling willAMN Recertified by The Joint CommissionLanguage barriers plague hospitals .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]

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