Do I have to Provide Medical Interpreting to My Patients?

 In Interpreting

The laws around providing interpretation and translation services to patients in a medical environment can be hard to understand. When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2016, it adopted new, more stringent, anti-discrimination changes. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act protects against discrimination based on race or national origin. It applies to every health program or activity that receives any federal financial assistance. The law states that hospitals, health plans, clinics, nursing homes, physicians and other providers are required to offer “qualified interpreters” to patients who have limited English proficiency.

Yes, a qualified interpreter is required by law
This means that, YES, any healthcare facility that receives any federal money MUST provide a qualified interpreter who can translate exact conversation between provider and patient. This includes medical terminology which requires a higher level of language knowledge than your average bilingual person. This change leaves healthcare providers wondering- What defines a “qualified” interpreter? And, what are the options to provide them to patients?

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Can my clinic use bilingual staff or patient family members to interpret?
The short answer is NO, and here’s why: Medical terminology is complex and requires above average lingual knowledge to translate. It is critical that the patient’s symptoms are understood by healthcare staff precisely, and to the smallest detail. And conversely, the patient must fully understand the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment instructions to heal properly.

Avoid the risk of a law suit
It is far better to pay an experienced, qualified interpreter to translate for your patient, then to risk millions of dollars in a lawsuit. For example, what if a patient with limited English proficiency insists that they bring their 6-year-old daughter to interpret Spanish at their appointment? If the medical professional accepts the daughter as a qualified interpreter, and the daughter mistranslates “stomach” for “lungs”, the doctor would misdiagnose and treat the patient with false information. This situation is grounds for a lawsuit and will cost the facility millions. DO NOT take the risk of a potential lawsuit simply to save money.

One of the most tragic stories of medical misinterpretation happened to 18-year-old Willie Ramirez in South Florida. Ramirez was taken to the emergency room in a comatose state where only his family and girlfriend could talk for him. They knew very limited English and brought a family friend to be their Spanish interpreter to the medical staff. Their interpreter mistranslated the Spanish word “intoxicado” for “intoxicated”. In Cuba, where Ramirez is from, “intoxicado” refers to something being wrong because you ingested something. The mistranslation led to the wrongful treatment of a drug overdose. Ramirez was actually suffering from an intracerebellar hemorrhage and is now a quadriplegic. The Ramirez family sued the hospital which resulted in $71 million for Willie Ramirez over his lifetime.

DO NOT take the risk of a potential lawsuit. Be prepared for patient needs and have an interpreting service plan in place.

What are my options for providing medical interpreting services to my patients?
Are there interpreting & translation services that specialize in the medical industry? Yes!

The first thing to do is to contact a translation services company, also known as a language services provider. They will have access to experienced qualified interpreters for all your medical translation and interpretation needs.

Over the phone interpreters are an easy and low-cost way to ensure messages between patient and medical professional are accurate and precise. Seek out a translation service company that provides a mobile, easy to use interpreting platform for scheduling over the phone interpreting with vetted and experienced interpreters. Some platforms give immediate access to over the phone interpreters and can be accessed via smartphone, desktop, or laptop. Video interpreting can also be scheduled for languages like American Sign Language (ASL).

Download this Guide to Interpreting Services to properly provide patients with their interpreting needs.


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